Report attacks 'dire' state of Royal Mail

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The Independent Online

Drastic reform of management is needed at the Royal Mail to end the "disastrous" strikes by Britain's most militant workforce, an official report stated yesterday.

Unless the organisation's old-fashioned authoritarianism ends, there is "little hope for the future success" of the business, the document said. A radical shake-up was needed or it would lose customers on a "massive scale".

Lord Sawyer, a former general secretary of the Labour Party who chaired a three-man inquiry team asked to investigate appalling industrial relations at the organisation, said: "Trust, respect and confidence have disappeared."

As he addressed a news conference in central London, hundreds of postal workers at a mail centre a mile away were on official strike, underlining the situation. The report labelled the state of industrial relations as "dire".

More than 62,000 working days were lost through walkouts by postal workers in the past financial year, although only 5 per cent of the stoppages were sanctioned by the Communication Workers Union.

Lord Sawyer said industrial relations were conducted as they were at companies in the 1960s that were driven out of business.

The perception of the Royal Mail as strike-ridden and unreliable made it vulnerable to increasing competition, which the industry's new regulator has threatened to license. The organisation at all levels was responsible for the situation, according to the report, and too often strikes were caused by "high-handed or insensitive behaviour" of management. The union was unable to control local activists who were independent of national officials and often hostile to them.

Lord Sawyer, with the other members of the inquiry team, Nicholas Underhill QC, a Crown Court recorder and employment lawyer, and Ian Borkett, director of training for the TUC's Partnership Institute, visited five big sorting centres.

At Cardiff, Liverpool and Oxford offices, which are beset by industrial unrest, the investigators found managers who "directed the work but who did not manage staff". Some had become "cynical and tired", worn out by conflict.

On the union side they found "automatic opposition to management proposals and an attitude characterised as "old-fashioned class war". Postal workers felt undervalued and were not respected.