As you will know by now, the Whitstable delivery office is due to close on the 20th May and the staff and service be relocated to Military Road, Canterbury.
It will be a sad day for postal workers and for the town as one more vital facility is closed and shifted over to the city nearly eight miles away.
However, the staff are sanguine about it. We put up a good fight, we held the company at bay for over three months and we won some important concessions along the way, with significant help from you, the public, who wholeheartedly supported us in our efforts.
No one could have fought more fiercely or with more spirit and determination than we did. We gave the company a run for their money. We won the media campaign, we won the moral argument, plus we had the most fun while we were at it.
The day of our strike, the 12th of January, will go down in history as one of the best days ever.
I must admit that I always thought that we would probably lose in the end, and I was regularly cautioning my colleagues to be aware of this. To my mind it wasn’t a case of who would win and who would lose. It was a case of standing our ground because to do otherwise would be to accept that we are nothing more than cogs in a machine to be shifted about at the company’s will, regardless of what we believed in.
One thing is certain: the Royal Mail will never, ever disregard the voice of its staff at the Whitstable delivery office again.
I have to take issue with the company’s press release on the matter, however.
It continues to repeat the same tired old lines about “ongoing transformation and modernisation” being “vital to put the business on a secure and sustainable footing for the future”, as if it hasn’t learnt a single thing in the last more than two years of campaigning.
So, just to recap the argument:
There is nothing in the slightest bit “modern” about shifting postal staff from bikes into vans. There is nothing “modern” about making staff do a 32 mile round trip, to and from work, and to and from their rounds every day. The Royal Mail will not be “contributing to a reduction” in their carbon footprint, as it claims in the press release. Carbon emissions will go up overall if you include staff journeys to and from work, and journeys by the public to and from the caller’s office to collect their undelivered mail.
The Royal Mail won the campaign because it had the resources to throw at it. It spent large amounts of money on beating the strike, and it will continue to spend large amounts of money on hiring casual workers to take on the extra work that will be required to maintain the service, given that staff will now spend upwards of an hour a day sitting in traffic instead of delivering letters as we currently do.
It will not mean a better service, it will mean a worse service, as even the Royal Mail, in an off-guard moment, were forced to admit. Holders of PO Boxes, people who receive a lot of special delivery letters (such as jewellers) and people made to travel into Canterbury to view excess charge mail before paying for it will definitely suffer a significant reduction in service.
The Royal Mail did not consult with its staff over the closure of the office, and while there was an initial consultation with the union, most of the union delegates walked out in disagreement at an early stage. The fact that one union representative continued to attend subsequent meetings does not constitute proper consultation in any recognised sense of the word.
The closure is not “being undertaken in line with the national agreement between Royal Mail and the CWU for modernising the business”. There was never any agreement between the Royal Mail and the union over closure of delivery offices until November last year. If the union agreed to these changes, it did so on the nod, and without consultation with its members.
The Whitstable caller’s office will not remain open because of “feedback from elected representatives and customers”. It will remain open, firstly because the company are legally obliged to give 28 days notice to customers over any change in the service and, secondly – and most revealingly – because the company has been unable to sell the premises, and therefore has to find some use for them in the meantime.
The closure of the delivery office will not result in a saving to the company. It will cost the Royal Mail, in travel time alone, upwards of £180,000 a year. This does not include cost of the vans, petrol costs or wear and tear to the vehicles, nor the cost of compensating staff for their travel expenses for the first three years after the move. Any gains the company might make due to the sale of the premises will be completely obliterated within three years and after that it will cost the company, year in, year out, forever more: or until the company collapses under the weight of its own inept decision making process, probably sooner rather than later.
This has nothing to do with efficiency. The only tangible gain will be that an underused building in Canterbury will now be filled – at a cost to the wellbeing of its own workers, and to their customers, many of whom will be forced to make a journey they currently do not have to make, through a congested corner of a congested city, adding significantly to stress levels and pollution on the way.
It also has nothing to do with “falling mail volumes” or that there are now “more parcels and fewer letters”, as Ray Tompsett adds in his own personal note at the end of the press release. More parcels means that a local delivery office in the town would be even more vital to “help put Royal Mail on a secure and sustainable footing for the future”, and to throw that away on a short term gain is to throw away the company’s only significant advantage over its competitors.
So, Ray, let me just add a few personal words of my own.
You won, we lost. That’s all there is to it. You have the power and the resources. We don’t. We will accept the move with good grace. We will do all that we can to make sure that there is as little impact as possible on the service, or upon our customers. If the quality of the service remains half decent, it will be because we have made every effort to ensure that it is so. If the quality drops at all, it won’t be because we haven’t tried. We will take our time and learn to enjoy the facilities that are on offer in our new location. In particular, we will avail ourselves of the canteen facilities and enjoy a good breakfast before we go out on our rounds in future.
But, please Ray, don’t try to pretend that this move is in the best interests of either us or our customers, because we know otherwise.