Yesterday, Thursday 27th December 2012, around 15 postal workers abandoned their Christmas celebrations for a time to attend a union meeting to discuss the outcome of the ballot held earlier in the month about industrial action. This was called because of the Royal Mail’s refusal to institute a proper consultation about the closure of the Whitstable Delivery Office.
To be clear on this point: the Royal Mail claim that consultation has taken place “at the appropriate level”. The “consultation” they refer to is the fact that they informed us that the office was going to close. There was never any discussion on the matter, nor any agreement. No vote has ever been taken. That has been the full extent of what they refer to as consultation. This a radical redefinition of the word to mean “you have been told”.
The meeting voted unanimously to hold a one day strike on Saturday the 12th of January with possible actions to follow.
The meeting was addressed by community activist Julie Wassmer, and by KCC councillor Mike Harrison, both of whom expressed their support.
The strike will be accompanied by a “Day of Action” involving the entire Whitstable community. Expect banners, balloons, costumes, singing, dancing and a great deal of fun and laughter both outside the delivery office and up and down the High Street.
A similar gathering took place on National Postal Workers Day on the 17th of December to which around 50 people turned up. This was on a wet Monday morning after less than 24 hours notice. Expect many more people on our Day of Action.
Some people have expressed their doubts about strike action.
To those people, and to the entire Whitstable community, I would say this:
We have been campaigning now for over two years. We have sent out hundreds of letters to dozens of organisations. We’ve sent letters to the Minister, to the regulator, and to consumer groups, to MPs, to business leaders, and the reply has always been the same. It is an operational matter, they say, and the Royal Mail do not have to consult. We have handed in a petition with over 5,000 signatures. We have lobbied our MP who has had direct talks with the Royal Mail. We have held two marches and three public meetings, to which the Royal Mail have been invited, though they could never be bothered to attend. We have spoken to the press, to the TV and to the radio.
In all that time we haven’t heard a peep from the Royal Mail, until a week after the strike ballot was announced when three (yes three) top officials from the head office turned up to bribe us and brow-beat us into voting against industrial action.
In other words, industrial action works. How else are we going to get the Royal Mail to talk to us?
Our three officials were very surprised by the reaction in the office. They came in believing that the ballot was about working conditions and weren’t expecting postal workers to talk about their customers and the service. They thought that it was the union taking the lead on the ballot and were surprised to discover that it was the members. They were completely dumbfounded by what they heard, unable to say anything in the end. As the union official I went in to talk to them afterwards. “Congratulations,” I said, “you have just been involved in what we call a consultation.”
When the Royal Mail tells you that the service will be maintained, they are not telling you the truth.
Yes, there is a redelivery option available, and, yes, packages can be delivered to your neighbour. This has always been the case. Recent rule changes have merely authorised what has been customary anyway. But not every neighbour wants to receive other people’s mail, not every neighbour will be in, and not every redelivery will be on time. The Royal Mail say that 90% of customers are happy after these changes, though they show no evidence of this. But even if we assume that their figures are correct, this still leaves 10% who are not happy. That a hell of lot of dissatisfied customers: around 3,000 in Whitstable alone.
Redelivery also does not apply to excess charge mail or to PO box mail.
But this is only the beginning of the problems associated with this move.
While Royal Mail pays lip-service to issues such as pollution and congestion, this move goes against everything they purport to believe in.
For instance, a recent pamphlet sent around to all 120,000 postal workers had this to say:
“We can all play an important part in supporting good environmental practice, by not wasting resources such as fuel, energy and paper.”
You’d think they could make a better job of saving paper by not sending the pamphlet out in the first place. As for fuel, they are closing hundreds of local delivery offices up and down the country, and replacing bikes with vans, all of which shows where their real commitments lie.
According to Google maps the Whitstable office is 16 miles from Military Road where the Canterbury office is located, meaning that every day postal workers will be forced into making a 32 mile round trip, to and from their homes to work and then to and from their rounds. There are 50 workers in Whitstable, adding in the region of 1600 extra miles of travel a day. That’s 9600 extra miles a week, or nearly half a million extra miles a year.
How can this be described as “good environmental practice”?
This is not to speak of the congestion or pollution that will be caused around the Military Road office by having all these extra vans on the road at the same time.
The move will also be bad for local businesses, who should expect to receive their post much later.
Currently postal workers leave the Whitstable office around 9.30 to 10.30 am, depending on the day, with the first letters being delivered perhaps ten minutes later. The journey from Canterbury will take in the region of half an hour, meaning that delivery times will be that much later. The new delivery method, due to be implemented at the same time as the move, is also much slower, meaning that delays can be expected of possibly more than an hour a day, a fact that should concern solicitors, accountants and other businesses dependent upon the mail.
But there’s one final element in all of this, which we haven’t discussed so far.
By moving us without consulting us they are effectively saying that they own us. We have been given no choice in the matter. We are their slaves, to be moved about at will, according to policies over which we have no say, mere objects in their calculations.
By taking action we are declaring our freedom.
We are telling the Royal Mail that we are human beings and that we have rights and that we expect to be given consideration in their plans. We want real consultation, not pretend consultation, and we expect to be talked to in future.
And if that was the only point of this action it would be more than enough.