Labour frontbencher calls for Royal Mail inquiry; strike impact laid bare

Richard Stuart-Turner
Thursday, December 1, 2022

Shadow secretary of state for Business and Industrial Strategy Jonathan Reynolds has written to secretary of state for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Grant Shapps to address his “extreme concerns” over the conduct of Royal Mail management.

115,000 postal workers have been taking industrial action
115,000 postal workers have been taking industrial action

Reynolds has called for a government inquiry into the situation at the postal operator.

In the letter, Reynolds argued that the country deserves an explanation as to why Royal Mail management defied “difficult” post-pandemic financial forecasts to give over £400m to shareholders, as well as ending the subsidising of Universal Service Obligation services.

“Further, it is unclear why a business that was thriving a matter of months ago is now threatening to cut thousands of jobs, with a devastating impact on those workers and their families,” Reynolds’ letter stated.

“This in itself must raise serious questions about how the business is being run.”

Meanwhile, continuing strikes by members of the Communication Workers Union (CWU) have reportedly resulted in large numbers of parcels and deliveries stacking up in every Royal Mail Group workplace across the country.

The CWU said that throughout this year, 115,000 postal workers have been taking industrial action “against senior management’s attempts to enforce massive real-terms pay cuts, force through thousands of compulsory redundancies and enact changes that would see Royal Mail turned into a Uber-style gig economy parcel courier”.

CWU members are striking again today (1 December) as well as yesterday. The union wrote to Royal Mail CEO Simon Thompson at the weekend to call for fresh negotiations.

CWU general secretary Dave Ward said: “Royal Mail bosses are risking a Christmas meltdown because of their stubborn refusal to treat their employees with respect.

“Postal workers want to get on with serving the communities they belong to, delivering Christmas gifts and tackling the backlog from recent weeks.

“But they know their value, and they will not meekly accept the casualisation of their jobs, the destruction of their conditions and the impoverishment of their families.

“This can be resolved if Royal Mail begin treating their workers with respect and meet with the union to resolve this dispute.”

Small businesses have been among the hardest hit by the strike. Harriet Hastings, managing director of luxury biscuit company Biscuiteers, appeared on BBC Radio 5 Live's Wake Up to Money show this morning.

Discussing the impact of the strike on her business, she said: “The longer it goes on, the more concerning it is and the closer we get to Christmas, it really is worrying, particularly as there is potential strike action [on 23 and 24 December].

“For e-commerce businesses those are really critical days, and we could actually lose an enormous amount of last minute Christmas shopping on the back of it.

“Because Christmas is quite a long occasion, my sense is that at the moment it’s not dampening conversion on the website because people feel they’ve got time to get gifts before Christmas, but the longer it goes on and the closer we get to the event, the more impact I think this is going to have. It’s the thing that’s keeping us awake at night as an e-commerce business.”

She added the business tries to mitigate the impact by running other courier options on its website but said those are “becoming overloaded because people are already moving away from Royal Mail”.

Many retailers have pulled back their Christmas final order dates due to the strikes.

David Jinks, head of consumer research at home delivery specialist ParcelHero, said: “Already, stores such as Boohoo, Currys, HP, Paul Smith and PC World have pulled back their last order dates by several days.

“There are two main reasons why retailers are already revising their final order dates. Firstly, planned strikes affecting traditional postal deliveries just before Christmas could throw final order dates into disarray.

“Secondly, last-minute express and next-day deliveries can cost at least a fiver extra compared to standard delivery options. Cash-strapped Brits, facing higher bills and galloping inflation, simply don’t have the money to burn on expensive delivery options.”

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