Bully tactics, demoralisation and “chaos management”; Tyneside postal workers on Thursday painted a picture of a company where relations between management and workforce are at an all-time low.
Royal Mail employees picketing the Tyneside Mail Centre in Gateshead, the main north east England sorting office, and postmen in Newcastle who will be on strike on Friday were at pains to say they are not Luddites opposed to modernisation.
But, they argued, autocratic management was driving through change without consultation, creating a climate of demoralisation.
“I don’t want to be on strike, I’d rather be at work today, I’m losing a day’s pay,” said 51-year-old processor Harry Irvine, standing on the picket line outside the Mail Centre where he normally sorts post.
“This has been forced on us; it’s our last option,” said Mr Irvine, a Royal Mail worker for 13 years. Management made changes, he said, did not train staff, then changed their mind again. “We aren’t informed and we aren’t given any choice. We would like to know what the Royal Mail plans are for the organisation and for closures.”
Another picket, Paul, a 25-year-old driver at the mail centre, said his attitude had been impeccable and his attendance exemplary during seven years with Royal Mail, but he was still stuck on part time work with dwindling overtime. “They aren’t interested in having full time workers any more.”
Bob McGuire, the CWU’s north east England divisional representative, on the picket line too, said he had read a document presented by Royal Mail to its managers on “chaos management”. “Introduce change without agreement, putting people into the pit of despair,” he explained. “Then put the ladder across so they work the way management want them to work.”
Across the Tyne, the Newcastle sorting office is located just behind the historic workshops where railway pioneer Robert Stephenson brought revolutionary change to transport and society worldwide. Royal Mail’s local managers seem to be finding change a tougher proposition. Even the trolleys which the postmen now use to wheel post around the city streets have not met with total approval.
“Managers have been bullying; you can’t go sick and they are making blokes come back after three weeks with heart trouble,” said David, a postman for 35 years. David, 53, says bonuses were introduced but have dwindled – except for managers. “The worst manager got £3,000.” He adds: “We haven’t had a pay rise for two and a half years; there’s no money – then Crozier gets £3.5m. In this situation there’s no morale at all.”
Courier companies, he says, have been allowed to cherry pick post which Royal Mail staff end up delivering the final mile and managers on computers set postmen impossible targets; “You have to walk up 10 flights of stairs; the computer says it should take 20 seconds.”
In Clerkenwell, London, about 15 people were stationed on the main picket line at the entrance to Mount Pleasant, the biggest sorting office in central London. Posters calling for a “Decent Wage for Postal Workers” run along the building, and a Cuban flag billows in the wind at the entrance.
Despite the harsh wind, Merlin Reader, 37, stands defiantly in shorts and a Royal Mail cardigan. The area delivery union representative for the EC postcode, he has been a staff member at Royal Mail for 12 years. “They are running the service down,” he says. “We’re not here because we’re greedy or lazy, this is about Royal Mail trying to expand profits at the expense of a decent service.”
This is the 15th strike since June and Reader believes it will not be the last. “I expect something similar next week, it will probably be announced soon, we’ve got to force the government to change its position.”
Around the side of the building, at the entrance for trucks and lorries, two pickets sit in deckchairs leafing through the national papers, analysing today’s coverage of the strike. Ujoma Raskassa has been working for Royal Mail for 22 years. “The problem is we have to go up against this extreme right media,” he says, clutching his newspapers tightly. “One worker will say something which echoes Mandelson and they’ll get quoted everywhere as the voice of the normal Royal Mail employee.”
“In reality,” he continues, “we just want job security, that’s what is paramount. We want this strike to end but Mandelson wants it to continue, his goal is to privatise the Royal Mail. This man is out for the kill.”
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