2014 04 – The Royal Mail and the Communication Workers Union

Going German in Royal Mail? by Larry Elliott

The following article by Larry Elliott appeared in the Guardian 9 December 2013:

Unions and management have found a grown-up way to conduct industrial relations

Struggling to get a decent pay rise? Unhappy about being on a zero-hours contract? Concerned about the size of your pension pot for when you retire? Then join a union and get organising. That’s the clear message from the deal struck between the Royal Mail and the Communication Workers Union.

It’s not just that the agreement offers CWU members a 9% increase in pay spread over three years, although an above-inflation package is certainly not to be sniffed at when average earnings growth is running at less than 1% a year. Nor is it simply that the Royal Mail has pledged to avoid compulsory redundancies, outsourcing and the use of zero-hours contracts, a commitment that will remain valid provided the union does not call a national strike.

It is also that the company and the union are trying to forge a grown-up relationship in which the union will have the right to make representations to the Royal Mail board and there will be monthly chinwags between Dave Ward of the CWU and Moya Greene, Royal Mail’s chief executive.

Higher pay, better working conditions, co-operation between workers and management. It sounds positively Germanic, and none the worse for that.


Notes and Comments by Tom Doherty

This deal was subsequently endorsed by 96% in a membership ballot.

This is apparently a legally enforcible agreement. Also talks are proceeding on a company charter to enshrine this post-privatisation agreement so it can only be changed by a share-holders vote.

Larry Elliott is one of the few national journalists who understands the TU movement and is familiar with the CWU in particular. Some years ago he addressed the National Executive Council of the CWU on the subject of the UK’s possible entry into the Euro (he was against).

Not so long ago Royal Mail had a disastrous industrial relations record: according to the Guardian in 2007 and 2009 two thirds of all strike days in the UK were at Royal Mail. For at least the last two decades, to my knowledge, it has seemed like guerrilla warfare in Royal Mail. A ritual of effectively “wildcat” local action, followed by national repudiation (to avoid sequestration or whatever) and instruction to return to work (sometimes complied with).

Dave Ward is one of the most sophisticated Trade Unionists I have met: it did not surprise me, in fact it gave me great pleasure, to read that he has accomplished this deal.

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