CWU threatens to boycott DSA mail

Simon Nias
Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Bosses at the Communication Workers Union (CWU) have reiterated the union's threat to get postal workers to boycott mail from downstream access (DSA) providers ahead of a ballot in the New Year.

CWU general secretary Billy Hayes and deputy general secretary Dave Ward used yesterday's inaugural National Postal Workers Day to stress the union's "commitment to defending Royal Mail jobs and working conditions and the universal service obligation".

This followed the launch of a campaign earlier this month to get Ofcom to "address the unfair competition [that] is threatening the universal service", namely the existence of low-cost DSA providers, in which the union threatened to "arrange boycott of competitors' mail if nothing is done".

The CWU's complaint centres on the fact DSA providers pay lower wages than Royal Mail and can cherry-pick the most profitable routes, although the union has also set out its stall with regards to the upcoming privatisation of Royal Mail.

Ward told an impromptu union meeting at the Royal Mail delivery office in Islington yesterday (17 December) that the CWU "must fight for sustainable jobs for Royal Mail", adding: "Privatisation might see an initial investment but within three or four years millions of pounds will be taken out of the business to benefit shareholders, leading to job cuts and a severe downgrading of services.

"Postal workers connect businesses to each other. They are good for the economy."

Commenting when the CWU launched its campaign on 4 December, Hayes said: "Under unfair competition we've seen prices rise, services diminish, closures and job losses. Competition and privatisation are old-fashioned theories which have had their day."

While the CWU threat applies to all DSA mail, it singled out TNT in its initial statement, claiming that the company "competes by paying poverty wages" and calling for all competitors to be forced to pay "Living Wage" as a minimum, if not match Royal Mail pay.

However, the CWU's argument ignores the fact that Royal Mail is free to set the price it charges for DSA providers to access its network, as pointed out by Howard Matthews, chief executive of mailing house Loricas Solutions.

"TNT’s pay structure has absolutely nothing to do with the CWU," said Matthews. "Nor has it anything to do with the CWU what TNT/UK Mail charge their customers. That is what competition is all about. It is Royal Mail who set the headroom for DSA providers and it is entirely up to them to create a working and profitable model on Royal Mail’s access prices.

"Maybe the real motive is for the CWU to demonstrate against privatisation. For the CWU to publicly encourage its members to take this type of action, I believe, is illegal and it will be interesting to see what action is taken against those representatives of the CWU should this crazy situation escalate once again to the detriment of all our customers.

"As we are aware, Royal Mail has in the past sacked postal workers for 'withholding mail'. Should this action go ahead, I imagine Royal Mail will have no alternative than to sack all those who refuse to deliver DSA mail."

Lance Hill, group sales and marketing director at 4DM, added: "Whilst defending the universal service obligation is plausible, encouraging members to refuse to deliver DSA mail is just unrealistic. For starters it would be a breach of contract that is in place between Royal Mail Wholesale and the DSA companies. On this basis I doubt very much that it will happen.

"There is a lot going on at the moment in the postage arena and next year is likely to be as active with an SMP working party group to sort out the recent reversion crisis, TNT gradually expanding its end-to-end service, and the biggest of all, the privatisation of Royal Mail.

"What we don’t need as an industry is additional noise that is effectively damaging the medium of mail. We need to promote the good and focus on the positive otherwise more clients will switch to alternative methods of communication which will inevitably be e-based and therefore detrimental to all of us involved."

The CWU plans to hold a "consultative ballot" of its members in Royal Mail in the New Year "with the intention of boycotting competitors' mail", meaning that any mail sent via a company other than Royal Mail "would not be delivered".

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