The U.K.’s Royal Mail can grab a bigger share of the burgeoning online delivery market without abandoning current working practices, the leader of its biggest union said as 115,000 workers resumed their strike.
While not opposed to the new focus on next-day parcels, the Communication Workers Union sees no justification for shifting delivery rounds from the morning toward late afternoon and early evening, causing upheaval for employees, General Secretary Dave Ward said in an interview Oct. 13.
“The network can operate in a way that doesn’t require deliveries go back three hours,” Ward said on a picket line outside a Royal Mail depot in Nine Elms, central London. “The most economic way is to deliver the parcels when you’re delivering the letters. You don’t cover the same ground twice.”
Some 19 days of walkouts are planned by Royal Mail employees in October and November, some of them national and others designed to disrupt key functions. The planned actions include the key retail periods of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, when online shopping surges in the run-up to Christmas.
Ward said there’s concern that a restructuring will see parcel deliveries “hived off into a separate business staffed by self-employed gig economy-style workers.” Existing staff fear being “managed out” in favor of others paid 20% less and working three hours more per week, he said, in the same manner that P&O Ferries replaced 800 seafarers with agency workers.
“We don’t mind delivering 24/7 parcels if you can work that into the systems you’ve got,” Ward said, adding that a new structure focused on parcels would also likely kill off daily deliveries in the already waning letters segment.
Still, the CWU chief said there have been some positive signs, with a “different feeling” surrounding negotiations this week as Royal Mail moves toward acknowledging some of the union’s red lines.
Royal Mail told Bloomberg that it’s continuing to lose £1 million ($1.06 million) a day as existing accords prevent it from fully addressing an express parcels sector where the surge in demand seen during the Covid pandemic has begun to wane, making the market more competitive.
The business, whose parent company has changed its name to International Distributions Services Plc, says the strikes are “damaging” and that the CWU refused an invitation to enter talks through the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, Britain’s state-backed mediator.
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