https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfr ... conditions
Postal workers have just voted to strike. The Tories at their conference gleefully challenged Labour leaders to denounce “illegal” action, assuming the Communication Workers’ Union ballot would never jump the hurdle of Tory laws designed to make strikes virtually impossible. Tough: not only did turnout far outleap the legal minimum, but 89% of votes backed a walkout.
Lord Tebbit, union-baiter in chief, could only harrumph. “They are pricing themselves out of business, making it more difficult for themselves to keep their jobs,” he said, calling them “near-suicidal”.
He has a point. They are pricing themselves out of the market, as Royal Mail loses out to cheaper competitors. This strike is over reduced pensions, pay and conditions, as rounds get longer and harder, and managers demand ever-greater efficiencies in a vain attempt to keep up with the competition. But how can a traditional workforce, paid ordinary pay, with legal working conditions, hope to compete with booming non-unionised companies as ruthless as Amazon, Hermes or Yodel? They all rely on self-employed owner-drivers paid poverty wages, denied paid holiday, sick leave and maternity and paternity rights.
Recent employment tribunals against CitySprint, Excel and Uber all found against the companies, which incorrectly classified their workers as self-employed, thus evading rights such as the minimum wage. There are ongoing cases against Addison Lee, Deliveroo and DX, with long appeals dragging on.
In a Guardian investigation last year one Hermes courier estimated she took home as little as £3.50 an hour. The BBC found that, after deductions for van hire and insurance, drivers contracted to Amazon Logistics were paid below the minimum wage. The MP Frank Field’s report on Hermes detailed poverty pay and appalling conditions. His analysis that its workers should be treated in law as employees with full rights has been backed up by the recent employment tribunal successes.
This is the working world Royal Mail is supposed to compete with. Moya Greene, CEO of Royal Mail, has condemned the use of “fictitious self-employment” by rival groups to cut costs and avoid tax. Without Royal Mail’s obligation to deliver to every address, its competitors are also able to cherry-pick profitable parts of the service. At the very least, they should be obliged to operate under exactly the same rules and obligations.
There are some wonderful things that we take for granted: water from a tap, light from a switch – and the universal post. Every day except Sunday, from the remotest Scottish bothy to the isles of Scilly, a postman Pat delivers to every door. In the late 19th century, the service was so brilliant that there were between six and 12 mail deliveries a day in London: diaries and biographies are full of exchanges of letters almost as rapid-fire as emails. The deliberate dismantling and dismembering of the postal service stands as an emblem of the attack on so much of the public realm.
How perverse that we have a long-established network of national mail centres and delivery offices (many of them now closing), with a daily delivery to every home, and yet new swarms of vans and cars are crisscrossing the country to the same neighbourhoods, delivering items many times a day. The cost in air pollution and traffic congestion hasn’t been tallied, as TfL told me. Who really needs an Amazon delivery at whim within hours, when a once-a-day universal delivery makes so much more sense? If a return to a monopoly provider sounds too soviet, at the very least all delivery companies should be obliged to give their drivers the same pay and conditions. Most would go out of business.
Meanwhile, a pilot scheme in Jersey shows what posties could do – acting partly as social workers, supporters to the old and lonely, checking people have all the services they need. In renationalising Royal Mail and restoring postman Pat as a public servant, think what an imaginative government could do. If government would stop the great sell-off of crown post offices, think what creative use could be made of those too, as the front office and public face of all public services.
This strike is a stand against all employees being dragged down by market forces to the pay and conditions of the worst. A race to the bottom is inevitable if bad employers are allowed to make huge profits by undercutting the good.