Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 September 2014

How Royal Mail bosses have failed to deliver ...

Much to my surprise I find myself - like Ye Olde Socialiste Worker down at Belfast's Cornmarket - saying 'Victory to The Postal Workers'.

As the threat of industrial action by posties looms, we've been inundated with the usual 'Back to the 1970s' or 'Miners' Strike II' type headlines.

Nah, don't think so. We've been there one too many times. In a world where bank bosses can lose billions, be saved by the taxpayer and still manage to award themselves huge bonuses, I'm not going to get too fussed over a Postman Pat getting a few extra quid in his pension.

Yes, we all know that for postal workers to strike is like turkeys voting for Christmas in this world of 'competition', with the internet, E-cards and PDF attachments. And, yes, Royal Mail may very well be struggling under pension commitments amounting to billions, but what the hell ...

The Royal Mail made £321m last year. Its chairman pays himself £1.3m a year. (I bet his pension schemes aren't too bad either. Is 'restructuring' that on the table?) If the mail is in dire straits, it's as much due to bad management as it is greedy workers.

Besides, the way the management behaves leads one to fear the worst excesses of 'just do it' style management.

Making huge wodges of cash for us? Have a pay freeze. Not happy with our vision of the future? Meet your new colleague, the proto-blackleg. How else do you explain away the Royal Mail's doubling the recruitment of temporary staff? Indeed, the management happily admits it. And this, mark you, before there's been any action.

If history is repeating itself, we shouldn't be looking to the 1970s or 1980s. Rather, it's the 1930s, and it's the 'management classes' which are investing heavily in the revival.

The credit crunch has been a nightmare for thousands of families here, yet how much of the pain was 'really' necessary and how much due to management Scrooges who have no thought about the little people? We all know tale after tale of firms using the threat of downturn to 'strip out costs'. Making a profit? We're preparing for the future. In the middle of bad times? Painful adjustments all round.

All too often, though, this has meant firing people, attacking terms and conditions of workers and welshing on pension commitments. (You know, like contracts which, in ye olden days, used to involve a moral obligation to try your utmost to live up to your word.)

Now NuManagement consists of nothing more than waiting until the next downturn, firing experienced staff and then (largely) re-employing them on rubbish part-time contracts. Not that they'll be any more binding. Just wait for the next downturn but one.

But the real cause of my red mist is that, for over 30 years, since the grainy days of the fall of Jim Callaghan, we've had a pro-management culture and what has it brought us?

Let's look at the Royal Mail, shall we? We used to have two deliveries. Now we only have one. We used to expect mail to be on the mat before we left for work. Now we hope for something to be there when we come home. We used to believe that buying a first-class stamp meant something. Now it's an act of faith. (What else explains the RM's 'guaranteed' service? And let's not even talk about second class.)

We used to have posties who knew intimately the streets they delivered mail to. Now you're more likely to meet a startled, confused-looking not so Super Mario wandering about at all hours of the day.

Still, I suppose it has resulted in some improvement to community life as neighbours visit each other to hand over post not meant for them ("your pile ointment's arrived, Mr Jones").

The key to much of this management guff about modernisation can be boiled down to one sentence: give us more money for less service.

Well, it ain't delivering. Maybe it's time the people on the other side of the letter box got a look in.

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