‘Something is seriously wrong’: Postal workers latest to strike as UK cost chaos continues

LONDON, 26th AUGUST: Postal workers strike on the picket line in Whitechapel on 26th August 2022 in London, United Kingdom. More than 100,000 postal workers have moved across the country today in a wage dispute.

Photo by Guy Smallman/Getty Images

LONDON — Postal workers across the UK went on strike on Friday over a dispute over pay and conditions at the former state monopoly Royal Mail, the biggest strike of the summer and the largest in the country since 2009.

The walkout, the first of four scheduled in the coming weeks, has involved 115,000 workers at 1,500 sites, and is the latest in a series of industrial disputes unfolding as the country battles a historic cost crisis. life.

This week, criminal lawyers voted to go on an indefinite strike from September 5 – the day the country’s new prime minister is announced – over pay cuts resulting from the government’s changes to the criminal justice system. legal aid in the country.

Meanwhile, massive rail strikes paralyzed the country for several days throughout the summer.

Members of the Communications Workers Union (CWU) voted 98.7% in favor of the strike, with a turnout of over 72%. Other strikes will take place on August 31, September 8 and 9.

LONDON – Aug 26, 2022: CWU General Secretary Dave Ward (in gray suit jacket) tours the picket line in Whitechapel on August 26, 2022. Members of the Communications Workers Union (CWU) voted in favor of the strike at 97.6% in the poll, in the biggest strike of the summer to date.

Guy Smallman/Getty Images

Royal Mail says it has offered CWU members a 5.5 per cent pay rise and cited the company’s precarious financial situation as one of the main reasons why wages cannot keep pace with inflation .

The group reiterated that Royal Mail is already losing £1m ($1.18m) a day and that CWU demands would cost over £1bn a year to implement.

In a statement on Thursday, Royal Mail said the strikes had plunged the company into “the most uncertain period in its 500-year history”.

“Our future is as a parcel business. We need to adapt the old ways of working designed for letters to an increasingly parcel-dominated world, and we need to act quickly,” the company said.

“We want to protect well-paying, permanent jobs over the long term and maintain our place as industry leader in terms of pay, terms and conditions. This is in the interest of Royal Mail and all its employees.”

Royal Mail accused the union’s proposals of being resistant to change and said the CWU’s vision for the future of the business “would create a vicious spiral of falling volumes, higher prices, higher losses and fewer jobs.

The CWU disputes this suggestion that a 5.5% pay rise is on the table, arguing that in reality the Royal Mail has imposed an unconditional 2% pay rise on workers without consultation.

Another 1.5 per cent depends on workers waiving certain conditions which the CWU finds unacceptable, the union claims, while RMG has also offered a £500 performance-linked bonus which the union finds impossible to achieve.

UK inflation hit 10.1% in July and the Bank of England expects consumer price inflation to top 13% in October. Citi economists this week forecast inflation to top 18% in the first quarter of 2023 as the country’s energy cap continues to climb to unprecedented levels, deepening the cost of living crisis.

UK energy regulator Ofgem announced on Friday that the annual price cap for energy bills would rise by 80% from October, from £1,971 to £3,549, to cope with soaring prices some gas. Some market analysts expect the cap to rise above £6,000 in 2023.

The CWU also questioned the company’s financial difficulties, in light of substantial payouts to shareholders and senior executives over the past year. Royal Mail says many employees are shareholders and have therefore received these payments, and that two-thirds of the £400 million in dividends paid out in recent years have been funded by profits from its subsidiary GLS in the Netherlands.

“Loss of trustworthy”

CWU deputy general secretary Terry Pullinger told CNBC the Royal Mail’s negotiating stance had been “extremely aggressive” since January, despite the two sides previously working without incident on a proposed amending deal, designed to modernize the company. He added that since the beginning of the year, “it’s their way or the highway”.

“Our members voted in two massive ballots, one on wages and the other on the change proposals and both ballots saw over 80,000 workers take part in both ballots and returning 97.6% and 98, 7% yes to strike,” Pullinger told CNBC via email Tuesday. .

“This, despite unprecedented propaganda from management, is a massive vote of no confidence and shows that RMG has lost the trust, respect and trust of its employees.”

Royal Mail Group made a profit of £758million in the last financial year, partly thanks to increased postal activity during the Covid-19 pandemic, but the last quarter paints a darker picture, with Royal Mail – the UK arm of the group’s postal service – reporting an operating loss of £92million. The group’s profits were instead driven by its Dutch parcel sorting subsidiary, GLS.

Royal Mail CEO Simon Thompson has insisted on discussing wages and conditions simultaneously, rather than in separate negotiations, a move that echoes the dispute between train operator Network Rail and various transport unions.

Despite the company’s financial difficulties, Thompson received an annual salary and benefits of £753,000 last year, including a one-time bonus of £140,000. Chief Financial Officer Mick Jeavoirs won £1.3million.

LONDON – Aug 25, 2022: Royal Mail workers will go on strike for four days in August and September over a pay dispute.

Rasid Necati Aslim/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

“On the one hand they’re telling all those employees who’ve made that billion pound turnover ‘there’s no money, the business is in trouble’, and yet we’re rewarding the CEO with a £140,000 bonus. It’s total arrogance, it’s totally disproportionate,” the CWU’s Pullinger told CNBC by phone.

“As an ordinary person, I look at it and I think there always seems to be those times in history where it gets so out of proportion – where the rich get so rich and the ordinary people get poorer.”

“Glue for Society”

Pullinger noted the similarities between the Royal Mail dispute and others in the private sector.
“There must be millions of people who aren’t unionized and are going through a similar situation, but those who are, you see it – unions are standing up and saying ‘no, that’s clearly wrong,'” said Pullinger. .

“Something is wrong with the boards of these companies that they think it’s okay to do this and tell the workers ‘no, we don’t have anything for you.’ Something is seriously wrong.”

CWU members feel their sacrifices during the pandemic and their role in turning around the financial fortunes of Royal Mail during this period have gone largely unrewarded.

“People have been conditioned to think that they have no value, or that they don’t do anything special – if they work in a store, or if they drive a bus, or if they deliver stuff or if they work for Royal Mail – what the pandemic has proven is that they are actually the glue of society,” Pullinger said.

“It’s been ignored for too long, and I think what key workers have done, on top of having to go through all the mental trauma of putting our families at risk, I think they’ve seen their true worth. “

‘Something is seriously wrong’: Postal workers latest to strike as UK cost chaos continues

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