Trade unions and our members often get bad press. We’re said to be led by ‘union barons’ and supported by ‘members who are only interested in themselves.’ But beyond this media and big business rhetoric, the truth is very different. Whether it is lifting people out of poverty, protecting workers from the Mike Ashley and Richard Bransons of this world, or simply demonstrating what can be achieved through collectivism, unions in the UK and across the globe are making a massive difference.
The CWU is a strong union. More than any other union we have beaten the government’s anti-union threshold laws on a national basis: postal workers have smashed that barrier three times in just over two years. The support from our members is uplifting and the organisational power of the union reaches every corner of the UK.
Two weeks ago we announced the latest of these national ballot results. A thumping 94.5% yes vote for strike action in our long running dispute with Royal Mail. Many would have expected us to call action immediately, but we didn’t. Instead, we recognised the scale of the coronavirus crisis and put the public and the country first.
At the same time, we called on Royal Mail and the government to utilise our members to keep the country moving. We proposed the delivery of key government services, checking on the elderly and vulnerable, making food deliveries and the introduction of new and innovative services.
In the days and weeks that followed the response from the company and the government has been alarming to say the least. On the frontline the rhetoric of “we will do whatever it takes” means nothing. The company continue to prioritise its commercial activities over the safety of the workforce. And the government has clearly prioritised companies like Amazon and Uber over Royal Mail’s unrivalled infrastructure and network.
In the meantime, postal workers continue to show extraordinary resilience, while suffering badly from a lack of gloves, sanitisers and masks, and a major failure to introduce social spacing in all workplaces. The combination of these factors leave many of our members fearing for their safety and worrying they could become ‘super spreaders.’
Despite all of this, postal workers continue to serve every community in the UK. Our members have received unbelievable support from the public and we are so grateful. The posters in windows, hand wipes and even a simple ‘thank you’ mean the world to your postie.
In a bid to keep the service going while protecting our members, the CWU wrote to the company earlier this week with a balanced proposal to introduce an emergency network. We called for the suspension of advertising mail – it is not essential mail, we do not believe the public want it at this time and neither does it reflect the status of a key worker.
We suggested that staff worked on a rotational basis to massively ease worries over social spacing and the cleaning of vehicles and equipment. The CWU also once again put forward suggestions on the community-based work our members could undertake.
Unbelievably, Royal Mail have written to the CWU dismissing this and gone even further by stating they do not wish to engage the union nationally on the coronavirus crisis. All because we made our concerns public.
This letter came from the CEO Rico Back. It was sent to us less than 30 minutes after a meeting we held with his senior management team. He had initiated this meeting, told us he would attend, but at the last minute chose not to. This type of behaviour is not befitting of someone who runs one of the biggest and most important companies in the UK.
The CWU and our members desperately want to serve the country at such a critical time but we will never allow our members’ safety to be compromised. Backed up by individual rights, the message for all workers is simple: if they do not feel safe they should not be working. We are taking this unbelievable lack of empathy and action from the company up directly with the government, and enjoy the full support of the TUC in doing so.
The next time someone talks to you about union dinosaurs holding back forward thinking businesses, remind them of the moment when the CWU and postal workers wanted to play a greater role in keeping our country going. Remind them that company bosses like Rico Back refused to entertain this – just because we made our concerns public.
Meanwhile, postal workers continue to do a heroic job, just like other key workers, in these hugely worrying times and under incredibly difficult circumstances. As a first step towards finally rewarding them for their efforts, the company should declare Easter Saturday a non-service day. We are certain you will agree.
Please support your local postie – they need it and they deserve it.