The Meaty Issues

I was asked last night, "why don't you get into the really meaty issues?" (or something to that effect). Well, here's my take on the UK Postal "strikes".
Okay, first of all, a couple of observations: The Post Office and the Royal Mail are some of the most antequated, out-moded and unchanging organisations in the country. Take the Post Office - only recently have they obtained the ability to take debit cards for payments (still no credit cards). How utterly pathetic! Plastic cards have been ubiquitous for 15-20 years, and not uncommon before that. Only in 2003 do they get the ability to accept such "new fangled" payment methods.

The Royal Mail (a different organisation) isn't far behind. They're not directly public facing, so no payment issues as such. However, the do collect, sort and deliver mail (as well as elaborate services, such as parcel deliveries and such like). Let's take those in order:

Recently, the RM decided to scale down collections - okay, fine. As part of this, they changed the pick up times and stopped using the little tag that said when the next collection was. So, now, there's no way to know if you've missed the last collection of the day or not. If like me, you live between a post box and a post office, then that sort of info is useful. Hardly an earth shattering problem, but contributory.

One other snippet of information on collections - we used to get a postie to collect our post from work. We gradually ended up not really sending much, so when the invoice came in, we paid and cancelled the arrangement. 12 months later, the postie stopped turning up. Also, even though the office is 5 minutes walk from a post office, this postie used to travel from West London to East London to pick up our post. Hardly the best way to do things, I would have thought.

Sorting: I'm going to leave this to last...

Delivery: Again, the RM scaled down deliveries, so that no domestic deliveries happen at 7am like they used to. Again, no big deal, as most people are out to work when the first deliveries are made. The RM employs people at "normal" times of day, and possibly does one delivery not two (I'm not sure) and so saves a load of money. This, I'd say, is all sensible and reasonable enough (especially given the advent of email, mobile phones etc).

Apparently, businesses have to pay to have deliveries before a certain time. That's a shame, but not necessarily a bad thing, I guess.

My last snipped about deliveries is my local postie. In my building, there are two flats, A and B. We used to get nearly all the post delivered to A, and none to B (because the postie couldn't be bothered to walk down 5 steps to my door). So, my landlord put numbers on my door, and put a little arrow pointing down the steps on the front of the place. Now, the postie gives me anything with my house number and flat B. I've had post for some people a mile or so away pretty frequently. I know there are three people in that place - I've had post for them all. Worse than that, I've been putting their post back in the post box, and have had some of it back two or three times before it "disappears" (presumably now delivered correctly).

So, all in all, the sorters (who I'm coming to) and the postie are a bit clueless. I'm worried that my post might be going astray as well - not everyone puts it back in the post box - I'm sure a good deal of it ends up in the bin. Most of my post is not very important, but what if that's a letter from my bank or someone? Not good...

Okay, so the sorters at the Royal Mail. Apart from the mistakes they make on my road name (which one would excuse from time to time, although not time and time again!), what about sorting?

I have to say, all the recent "unofficial strikes" are an absolute joke. First of all, you're either in a union or you're not. If you're not, then you can do what you like, but you're easy pickings if the employer doesn't like what you're doing. So, you have unions - safety in numbers. Unions are supposed to be democratic. As a member, you vote for who represents you to the employer. Also, as a member, you might be asked to vote on action against the employer, like striking. If the vote is carried, you're under a good deal of pressure to strike, even if you voted against (the people on the picket line will call you a scab and generally shun you, if you don't tow the line).

So, in short, unions and their members are bound by democrasy. You vote, then you do what ever gets decided. You can't pick and choose - you can't go through all this process and then say "well, I don't agree with the vote, so I'm doing X".

It seems the normal rules of democrasy do not apply to the CWU (the union noegotiating with the Royal Mail). In the CWU, you get to do what ever you like, provided it frustrates the employer - the union will back what you're doing. There are even rumours that the union has encouraged this kind of behaviour.

So, various CWU members (some 20,000 of them) decide they want a bit of a holiday, so they fail to turn up to work for a few days. This isn't a strike - it's a holiday. It's only a legal strike if it's been ratified by a vote in the union. Also, the employer has to be told when a strike will take place. You can't just stay at home one day without warning because you don't like something.

Okay, my bias on this is not necessarily towards the employers, but it's definitely away from strikes. Striking is also an antequated, out-moded and "blunt instrument". However, trade unions don't seem to think they need to have any new ideas, so they use the same ones that they've been using for years. I generally don't support strikes, and quite frankly treat unoffical "strikes" with contempt.

So, given all this, and giventhe fact the Royal Mail is in one hell of a mess financially and managerially, my solution to it is incredibly hard line. Anyone who strikes illegally should get put on a written warning. If they've already had a written warning, or they do it again, sack them. They're not playing by the rules (which they subscribe to when they pay their union membership), and so are unreliable, unprofessional and unemployable.

That action would at the very least see 20,000 people in real trouble, possibly sacked. It would almost certainly spark off real strikes. We'd be looking at months of disruption to postal services. the courier companies would all make an absolute killing because regular post would be unreliable, and for the most part, unavailable.

After many months of this, even the most staunch striker will eventually have to conceed that they either need to go back to work, or find another job. The RM should not back down on this. The RM is a seriously screwed organisation as it stands, and if it needs to go through extreme pain for itself and it's customers, then so be it. The result will be an utterly minimalist company, a mere shadow if it's former self, but similarly will have a far smaller customer base to deal with too. From there, it can build up the service, and do all of that in an efficient, well managed and flexible way, unencumbered by the legacy of the past. To be rid of the preconceptions we all have about the Royal Mail would singularly be the biggest help to it. Once we expect nothing, we can be dazzled when we get something from them again.

Submitted by coofercat on Fri, 2003-10-31 12:44