Royal Mail managers – Covid’s unsung heroes

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Christmas was once a ‘busy’ period for Unite’s Royal Mail manager members, who ensure the cornerstone of UK communication, the Universal Service Obligation to deliver post anywhere in the UK, is upheld. 

But the changes wrought by Covid mean that ‘busy’ is a now relative term for these workers, with lockdowns prompting an explosion of home deliveries that has seen their crucial behind the scenes work rise exponentially. 

“I know people think this is the busiest time of year for the Royal Mail, but during Covid it’s been like Christmas every day”, explained Unite CMA National Chair, Gary Sassoon-Hales.

“While its normally five weeks of pressure over this time of year, this has been months and months of pressure. We’re seeing things like lawn mowers being delivered through the post now and added to that is extra work specifically linked to Covid, such as delivering test kits.”

Just as they do every year at Christmas, Royal Mail managers have kept the system moving throughout the pandemic. This includes the significant achievement of delivering a 99 per cent quality rate for collecting and sending out Covid tests.

For Sassoon-Hales and his Unite colleagues at Royal Mail, the rising workloads have resulted in an increasing number of managers coming to them for help with stress and other mental health issues. 

He said: “Typically, we have always been a Monday to Saturday operation. But since Covid we have been running seven days, with managers working many hours of unpaid overtime. 

“The efforts of Royal Mail’s non-operational and operational managers have been tremendous. But our reps are seeing an increase in casework related to mental health, because of the stress and pressure they are under. 

“As well as increase in work, this can also be linked to unrealistic expectations and decisions taken by the company at a very senior level, which then impact on our members ability to do their role.”

Unite represents most of the 8,500 managers at Royal Mail, including at its sister company Parcel Force. 

The union’s dedicated network of Royal Mail reps are working hard on new agreements to improve the jobs, pay and conditions for managers at the company, who are facing a number of challenges that are not just related to Covid. 

For example, in 2020 Royal Mail announced plans to make 2,000 managers redundant. Unite, however, managed to reduce this number and ensured that the overwhelming majority where voluntary and that severances packages were as high as possible.

Moreover, union negotiators have established a ‘right to switch off’ agreement to prevent senior management contacting members after their shift, an issue that impacts on people’s family lives and work/life balance.

Unite has also got Royal Mail to agree in principle to agree to look at reducing working hours to ensure job security in the face of increasing automation across the business. 

National lead officer for Royal Mail Group, Mike Eatwell, says automation is something the union is determined to get ahead of. 

He explained that Royal Mail’s movement from a predominantly letter delivery service to one that delivers parcels, means the company is creating automated ‘super-hubs’, the effects of which need to be positive rather than negative for members. 

“There’s a lot going on at Royal Mail, some of it presenting difficult challenges, but one way or another our reps, with the unwavering support of the union, always manage to step up to the plate and get an agreement our members vote for and are supportive of,” said Eatwell. 

“There’s not many companies where the whole management strata are in a collective unionised atmosphere, it really is exceptional, particularly when you realise the Royal Mail is the second biggest private sector company in the UK.”  

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