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’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

— 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.


Julia Kollewe

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Royal Mail to extend free doorstep parcel collection amid pay dispute
Company is trying to boost UK business as workers prepare for strike action that it says will push it into loss

Christy Cooney

16, Aug, 2022 @3:03 PM

Article image
Royal Mail needs to modernise – but compromise is way out of dispute | Nils Pratley
For postal workers, firm’s proposal to hold talks at conciliation service Acas is one to consider seriously

Nils Pratley

22, Sep, 2022 @6:32 PM

Article image
Royal Mail requests permission to stop Saturday letter delivery
Firm reports £219m half-year losses and asks government to let it move to weekday-only service to cut costs

Mark Sweney

17, Nov, 2022 @2:11 PM

Article image
Currys drops Royal Mail ‘for now’ as strikes threaten deliveries
Retailer says its responsibility is to ensure customers ‘get hold of their technology’ for Christmas

Rupert Jones

04, Dec, 2022 @12:25 PM

Article image
Royal Mail may face more strikes as talks with union end without deal
CWU says ‘unacceptable pressures’ placed on postal workers, as bosses say offer to union was increased

Jasper Jolly

05, Apr, 2023 @11:35 AM

Article image
Royal Mail to cut up to 10,000 roles, blaming strikes and lower parcel volumes
Postal service expects operating loss of about £350m in year to end of March, which could rise to £450m

Mark Sweney

14, Oct, 2022 @6:52 AM

Article image
Czech billionaire’s Royal Mail stake under national security review
Daniel Křetínský-controlled Vesa Equity Investment could increase its shareholding to more than 25%

Alex Lawson

25, Aug, 2022 @4:54 PM

Article image
Chuka Umunna advises Czech tycoon accused of Royal Mail plot
Ex-Labour MP and former critic of privatisation risks claims of hypocrisy over advisory role with Daniel Křetínský

Anna Isaac

27, Dec, 2022 @2:15 PM

Article image
Royal Mail agrees upon pay deal with postal workers’ union
Agreement includes a 10% salary increase and a one-off lump sum of £500 for all CWU-grade employees

Julia Kollewe and Alex Lawson

21, Apr, 2023 @2:27 PM

Article image
Royal Mail pay offer is ‘declaration of war on posties’, says union
CWU says firm’s offer of below-inflation pay rise and changes to work practices are unacceptable

Joanna Partridge

31, Oct, 2022 @4:17 PM