https://letsgetrooted.wordpress.com/202 ... il-worker/
We spoke to comrades working for the Royal Mail about their experiences during the lockdown, a postal delivery worker in Central London and a comrade who works at the depot in Hillingdon.
“I work for Royal Mail in central London, sorting and delivering them. We primarily deliver to offices, which meant that the workload came down during the lockdown due to closed offices. This contrasted with residential deliveries, which saw Chrismas-kind increases due to more parcels from online orders.
Initially, there was no supply of PPE and people were worried, they brought in their own masks. We got our first hand sanitisers two, three weeks after the official government lockdown. Workers complained to the union about this, but it also took the union in my office a week to get active. There were union endorsed wildcat actions at other offices due to lack of health and safety, but I am not to informed about the ins and outs of these actions – they tend to be localised. In my office employing about 300 to 400 workers the average age is high, perhaps even over 50 years old.
Due to the lack of reaction from above, many people voted with their feet, sick-rates went up to 15 to 20% during the period of the lockdown. This meant that many walks could not be done and work was piling up. There was a lack of drivers. Management offered overtime, but not many workers took it up. Most people just wanted to get their job done and go home – and due to the lack of traffic people managed to finish quick. This aggravates a general problem: some workers come in early and don’t take their breaks in order to finish early. Many workers have second jobs in the afternoon. The union reminds people that they should take their break, otherwise management will use the situation to reduce staff, as they can see that work can be completed quicker.
The wildcat strikes had a knock-on effect. In our office management and union became pretty cautious about health and safety but in a very contradictory manner. While inside many people still work without masks and only some sorting-frames have been removed to guarantee social distancing, the big changes happened in terms of the vans. Normally the delivery postman (‘walkman’, ‘walkwoman’) go out with the van drivers once sorting is finished. We tend to have to wait for the van drivers. Now management said that we cannot go in a van together. They told us that we have to either walk to our patch – which in my case can be an extra 45 minutes each way – or take public transport. Public transport became very crowded as time went on, which puts you in an absurd situation. But management insists on continuing the measure, probably also because work can be done quicker! Instead of having to wait for the van drivers we start our round earlier and only few walkmen wait till the final sorting work is done. The union also defends this measure, saying that it would save jobs! Management threatened anyone who would share vans with immediate dismissal.
All this comes during a time when a lot of changes in Royal Mail were announced, in particular by the old boss Rico, who left during the pandemic. There were job cuts announced for central London, also by reducing delivery to a Monday to Friday schedule. Figures of 40,000 to 45,000 job cuts were circulating. With less workers needed to cover the rest days of other colleagues, people would have to move between offices. Management wanted to introduce more flexibility in this regard. There was an uproar when management announced this and they retreated by saying that all this is voluntary for the moment. When they asked people to shift to other offices during the lockdown – in particular to residential deliveries – some workers took time off sick.
During the beginning of the lockdown, the CWU leadership called off industrial action against the management plans of restructuring, saying that we are needed during these times of national emergency. At least temporarily this might have worked out for them. Management is now cautious to attack workers, who have just been declared heroes. We have to see how this turns out in the long run. The CWU is pretty top-down, the decision to call off action was not discussed. Our reps only inform us rarely of what is happening. There were two general leaflets during the pandemic, one on the threats of job cuts, one general one on Black Lives Matters.
We don’t know how we come out of this pandemic crisis. Management won’t announce job cuts when more workers are needed for delivering online orders. Not many people have been furloughed. Management might think that they can get rid of people through retirement and not replacing them. In my office, hardly anyone has been hired in recent years. Drivers have been hired, but on part-time contracts, although they work full-time.
Workers are cynical in general. They don’t believe management. Only 10 or 15 out of 300 of my workmates took part in a management survey about workers’ job satisfaction. They are also cynical when it comes to politics. They say this government was slow to react, but Labour would have been the same.
There are some grassroots forums, such as the Royal Mail Chat on Facebook. More people took part in them during the lockdown, but it hasn’t translated into more practical coordinations.”
“I work in Hillingdon. There was a bit of verbal disagreement and management may have enforced H&S for fear of a walkout (which did nearly happen at one point when we thought someone had been infected), but this was too haphazard to be pushed by the workforce. Otherwise not much happening.”