Q&A: The Royal Mail strike explained

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The Independent Online

Q: How did the current strike originate?

A: The strike’s roots can be traced back to 2007, when Royal Mail signed a 14-page Pay and Modernisation Agreement with the Communication Workers Union (CWU). Unfortunately, the document was extremely vague in places and left too much room for interpretation by either party. Take this example: “It’s all about managers, reps and employees working sensibly with a bit of give and take, applying equally to all.”

Q: Has the state of Royal Mail got anything to do with it?

A: Undoubtedly. Since 2007, the company has continued to lose business to rivals, and its mail volumes are shrinking by approximately 10 per cent each year. Every one per cent drop costs the company about £70m in lost revenue. To respond to this decline in business, it says staffing cuts are inevitable.

Q: Why are the post workers striking now?

A: The CWU concedes that Royal Mail has carried out three of the four planned phases of the 2007 agreement, but says the company is refusing to talk about the crucial final phase: how its modernisation plans are going to affect the job security of its members. In particular, they fear the national roll-out of a newly developed sorting machine, which is likely to render thousands of full-time jobs unnecessary overnight and lead to a massive increase in part-time workers.

Q: So it’s really all about jobs?

A: Mainly. The CWU has always accepted that jobs would need to be lost as the company modernised, but says it was not told any specific details about the changes in 2007. It claims that Royal Mail has now stopped talking to its staff about job security, leaving it with no choice but to threaten a strike to get discussions moving.

Q: What about pensions?

A: Royal Mail has a £6.8bn black hole in its pension fund, which the CWU says is due to the employer paying nothing into the scheme for the past 13 years.Q: What are the strikers demanding?

A: A signed agreement determining the true scope of the inevitable job cuts, as well as pay guarantees for the workers who will remain.