Leading article: Royal Mail risks the destruction of its own future

These strikes will inflict great harm on the firm's reputation

Share
Related Topics

For the second time in two years, a nationwide postal strike is looming. The Royal Mail management and the Communication Workers Union are on a collision course which seems destined to end in walkouts by postal workers across the country by the end of the month.

Both sides must accept their share of the blame for this breakdown in relations. The union is demanding guarantees on pay and conditions for staff which are far more generous than any that exist in the private sector. It is also resisting reforms – such as the part-privatisation recommended by last year's Hooper review – that are necessary to eradicate some of the Royal Mail's entrenched inefficiencies.

There are also serious questions over the performance of the company's management. Royal Mail bosses, it is true, have been forced to cope with the consequences of a botched deregulation of the postal market in 2006. But to be facing yet another national strike suggests incompetence.

For all the militant tendencies of the union, workers' representatives agreed two years ago, in principle, to job cuts and a modernisation programme. A skilful management would have been able to implement its reforms without provoking such a disastrous confrontation.

Yet wherever the greater share of the blame lies, the prospect of another national strike is deeply depressing for everyone that uses the Royal Mail, or cares about its long-term future. Both the union and the management claim to have the long-term interests of the company at heart. But to the outside world, this dispute resembles nothing so much as an exercise in self-harm.

The world of communications is in the throes of a revolution. The number of letters being sent has been falling steadily since the turn of the decade as people increasingly correspond through email and pay bills online rather than posting cheques. This does not mean that the Royal Mail has no future. But that future will increasingly lie in delivering the items that people are buying over the internet. While the volume of letters posted is sharply down, the delivery of parcels is booming.

Yet unlike in the private letters market, the Royal Mail will not enjoy a monopoly in parcel delivery. Private sector competition is already mushrooming. Eventually, the Royal Mail will be just one more service provider in a diverse marketplace. What will determine its success or failure will be its ability to provide an efficient service to its customers. What will matter, above all, will be reputation.

This latest spasm of industrial unrest is doing great damage to that reputation. And there are already signs that the patience of its customers is wearing thin. John Lewis announced this week that it will be working with other carriers in order to avoid disruption to its online deliveries. Amazon, the Royal Mail's second-largest customer, is reported to have awarded one of its contracts to Home Delivery Network. Neither can afford for deliveries to be delayed in the crucial pre-Christmas period.

While Royal Mail managers and workers squabble among themselves, the world of communication and logistics is moving on without them. Unless they get their act together and start pulling in the same direction, both the company's management and its workers risk finding that the new world has been established – and that they lack a place in it.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Regulatory / Compliance / Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: Exeter - An excellent opportunity for a Solici...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - 12 Month Fixed Term - Shrewsbury

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Helpdesk Support Technician - 12 ...

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

The Jenrick Group: World Wide PLC Service Engineer

£30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Mary Christmas: the Bethlehem story is Mary's moment, when a poor peasant girl gives birth to the Son of God in a stable  

The appeal of the Virgin Mary: A supernatural hope at a time of scepticism

Peter Stanford
 

Letters: Why Cameron is wrong about EU child benefits

Independent Voices
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there