Royal Mail managers 'holding the business together on unpaid overtime'

Unite survey reveals stretched Royal Mail managers denied breaks and annual leave, with company depending on 1,800 'unpaid jobs'

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Managers at the Royal Mail, currently being balloted for industrial action over threatened job losses, work ‘nearly 1,800 jobs’ worth of unpaid overtime a year’, Unite has said.

A Unite survey of 1,000 of its Royal Mail managers undertaken in the spring revealed that they are giving the company 7,767 ‘free’ hours per week which is equivalent to about 1,800 extra jobs, if extrapolated over the working year and the total managerial population of the company.

The damning findings come as about 2,400 managers across over 1,000 workplaces are being balloted for strike action and industrial action short of a strike. The ballot is due to close on Wednesday 29 June – and the union warned that letter and parcel delivery chaos was on the cards this summer.

The dispute centres on plans to remove 542 frontline delivery managers, on top of the already 450 jobs axed, alongside a redeployment programme to bring in worsening terms and conditions.

In November 2021, Royal Mail recorded a £311 million profit.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said, “While the boardroom is awash with profits, Unite’s Royal Mail managers are effectively holding the business together on unpaid overtime.

“Instead of these senseless plans to sack 542 workers and drive down pay, Royal Mail should be addressing why this business is relying on our members’ sacrifices to keep the service operating as customers expect,” she added.

“Yet again, another UK business is being jeopardised by the misguided priorities and boardroom greed. Unite will continue to oppose these attacks on our members every step of the way.” 

The Unite poll also found that a strong majority – nearly 70 per cent – of Royal Mail managers do not take a meal break. Of the minority of those who did take a meal break, 68 per cent took less than 20 minutes.

More than 80 per cent of those surveyed said they never leave their workstation, taking their break where they work. Just eight per cent said they ‘leave the office’ for their break. 

In addition, more than a third of Royal Mail managers work weekends despite it not being a contractual requirement, while 66 per cent feel pressurised to reply to work emails outside of working hours. 88 per cent receive business calls outside contractual hours, including weekends.

 Nearly half of Royal Mail managers said they do not take all of the annual leave that they are entitled to, with one in three saying they experience ‘resistance’ from the company when asking for leave. Just as many said every year they ‘cancel leave already booked for work purposes’, with a further 60 per cent saying it’s difficult to take time off in lieu (TOIL) accrued.

Individual responses from managers who were polled revealed the extent of their horrendous working conditions.

When the managers were asked what would happen if they took all their breaks and holidays, and worked only their contractual hours, one manager said, “[The work] would continue to build up and at some point I would be expected to address outstanding activities without support. It is relentless.”

Others highlighted that they would be threatened by their bosses, with one manger noting, “It would be used against me for performance issues and lack of commitment.”

Several managers who were polled said that without working all the extra hours – hours for which they are unpaid – the work would simply not get done.

“Elements would not be done and pressure to complete tasks would escalate rapidly on top of the ordinary knee jerk reaction based tasks,” reported one manager.

“I would miss deadlines and the stress of getting behind would put me in a box. The long hours culture is terrible,” said another.

Unite believes that the unbearable pressure that Royal Mail managers are now under –  a direct consequence of job cuts – are being driven by shareholder greed and not by necessity. Royal Mail handed an astonishing £400m to shareholders last November through a share buyback and special dividend, while over the same year it slashed 1,600 jobs.

The union also fears that the business is threatening the universal service obligation whereby it must deliver to every household in the UK six days per week. For 2021-22, Royal Mail has missed several key delivery targets which has resulted in an Ofcom investigation.

Commenting on Unite’s survey, Unite national officer with responsibility for Royal Mail, Mike Eatwell said, “The results of the survey of our members are a damning indictment of the top management and the way they run the Royal Mail. It should also act as a strong incentive for them to get around the negotiating table or face a strike.

“A strike by our hard-pressed and overworked managers would cause a summer of chaos to letter and parcel deliveries – now is the time to talk.”

By UniteLive team

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