Royal Mail accused of ‘Uberisation’ as dispute with CWU escalates

Royal Mail accused of ‘Uberisation’ as dispute with CWU escalates

Company proposes Acas meeting as it threatens to tear up elements of nine-year deal with union

Royal Mail workers on strike in Peterborough

Royal Mail’s row with employees over pay and conditions has escalated, with the company saying it is prepared to tear up elements of its nine-year deal with workers to push through a modernisation programme, prompting accusations of “Uberisation”.

The company has written to the Communications Workers Union to propose that talks should be taken to the arbitration service Acas, but the CWU is yet to respond.

the executive chairman, Keith Williams, is pushing for a renegotiation of the house agreements with the CWU, which represents the majority of Royal Mail’s 140,000 staff, in a bid to restructure the company so that it can better compete with rivals on parcel delivery.

Royal Mail has offered a pay rise of up to 5.5% for CWU workers, its biggest increase in years. However, annual consumer price inflation was 9.9% in August and forecast to rise further.

Despite five months of negotiations, including three dispute resolution procedures, no agreement has been reached. More than 115,000 postal workers voted overwhelmingly for industrial action, and three strikes took place in August and September, with two more planned for 30 September and 1 October.

Royal Mail has decided to review or serve notice on a number of historic agreements and policies which, it said, “are currently being used by the CWU to frustrate transformation”. They include the “agenda for growth”, which was signed when Royal Mail was privatised in 2014, and has a clause that allows the group to pull out of the agreement “in the event of national industrial action”. Royal Mail said it was giving notice on the undertakings, and wants to renegotiate the industrial relations framework.

The CWU general secretary, Dave Ward, said: “This represents a new step in a plan to turn Royal Mail into something more like Uber.

“But this country’s postal workers are made of stronger stuff than the people currently running Royal Mail. They won’t accept such a historic institution being turned into a gig economy employer.”

A union spokesperson added: “We’re always in favour of modernisation, but it’s got to be on terms that benefit everybody, not just profits.”

However, the company said it made a loss of £92m in the first quarter, equivalent to £1m a day, and argued that it “needs to adapt much faster to adapt to changing customer demands in a highly competitive market”. It added: “The CWU has blocked any meaningful discussion on the change agenda the company has set out, and has not put forward any viable alternatives that will fund further pay increases.”

The CWU hit back at the company’s claims, describing the proposed changes as an “all out attack” on the union. It told workers: “For now, the best response everyone can give is to make it crystal clear to management that you will not be bullied and that you will be supporting strike action next week and beyond.”

Our negotiators are currently in the room with Royal Mail Group and this happens. We need the public to see this so please share as much as you can #StandByYourPost pic.twitter.com/QhyTJTFkX1

— The CWU (@CWUnews) September 22, 2022

The company said: “Royal Mail is not changing quickly enough, a reflection of the unique, complex, costly and highly restrictive union agreements and structures built up over many years.” One agreement, on improving performance, dates back to 1980.

The firm wants to speed up decision making on a daily basis – at the moment, CWU representatives negotiate and allocate overtime, annual leave and working hours – trial and introduce new technology more quickly and revise attendance policy, as well as reducing complexity and cost.

Management also want Sunday working, which is voluntary at the moment, added to staff rotas, and to move postal workers’ start and finish times back by an hour, to be able to cater better for customers who shop online in the evenings. “We’re not a letters business any more,” said a company spokesperson.

The dispute is mainly about the loss-making UK postal business. The company, which has become increasingly reliant on its profitable overseas operation, called GLS, is aiming to move toward a parcels-led business to cash in on the online shopping boom.

Shares in Royal Mail fell almost 5% after the announcement, to a two-year low of 204.8p.