Royal Mail boss blames rogue managers for tracking devices on workers

Simon Thompson says monitors were used to pressure staff to work faster in breach of its policy

The chief executive of Royal Mail has admitted digital tracking devices carried by postal workers were used to pressure them to work faster, blaming rogue managers for using the information in breach of the delivery company’s policy.

Simon Thompson, who was hauled back in front of the business select committee after MPs felt he did not give “wholly correct” answers during his first appearance last month, maintained that information provided by the postal digital assistants (PDA) carried by workers is used to “balance the workload evenly across the whole of the team”.

In an unusual move, Darren Jones, chair of the select committee, asked Thompson, Royal Mail chair Keith Williams, and operations development director Ricky McAulay to swear an oath before giving testimony in a tense two-hour grilling.

“I remind the witnesses that you are obliged to tell the whole truth to this committee and any failure to do so will be considered a contempt of parliament and a potential perjury,” he said.

Jones said after Thompson’s appearance before the committee last month he had received almost 1,500 communications, including various images of charts used by management and testimony from workers that showed tracking information from PDAs was “100% being used” to discipline and performance-manage staff.

Each postal worker carries a PDA on their route which gathers information on how long they take to complete their round, and uses yellow dots that grow the longer a worker is stationary.

Evidence shown by the committee included several charts showing the performance of workers – with their names redacted – one of which included a handwritten note saying “don’t get caught” in reference to the slowest posties.

“We were alarmed to see that and it definitely breaches our policy,” said Thompson. “Anything on there that says ‘Don’t get caught’ is clearly not what we do and I don’t believe it is representative of what happens [across Royal Mail]. We saw this evidence the other day and it is actually a breach of our very clear policy and agreement with the Communications Workers Union (CWU).”

Thompson said that the correct use of information from PDAs had been agreed in 2018 with the CWU, which represents about 115,000 postal workers.

“It is not information that is available in real time,” said Thompson. “We don’t track postal workers in real time nor nudge them to make sure they go at the right pace. Nor can any data seen today be used for any sort of performance management. This is a system that is used to make sure we balance workload evenly across the whole of the team.”

Summing up the committee’s exchange with management, Jones said there was a common theme to the answers given to MPs questions.

“We have rogue posters, rogue managers, we have isolated incidents, we have a global pandemic, we have industrial action,” he said. “It is everyone else’s fault, nothing to do with me, guv.”


Mark Sweney

The GuardianTramp

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