Postmen vote to boycott half of all letters



Postmen have voted unanimously to boycott the delivery of almost half of all letters. The vote was taken by reps for the Communication Workers Union, who are threatening not to deliver any mail which is handled by a third party and then passed onto Royal Mail for the final leg of the journey.

So why are they making this threat, and what does it mean for you?

The mail is question is handled by private companies like TNT Post and UK Mail. They will take letters and bills from companies like banks and utility firms, sort it, and then send it to the local delivery office for Royal Mail to take out on their rounds. At the moment this makes up around 44% of all the mail handled by posties.

Why boycott?

The union is worried by the growth of these companies. They argue that the private firms compete with Royal Mail by offering their staff worse terms and conditions. Dave Ward, CWU deputy general secretary, said: "Competition is being allowed on the basis of low-pay and unreliable job security in private companies. That will be a disaster for the sector if it continues." The union is concerned that there could be a 'race to the bottom' for lower pay.

It is also angry at the fact that these private companies are not held to the same standards and targets as Royal Mail. It said in its boycott statement: "As a result of Ofcom's pro competition position, competitors such as TNT can choose where, when and what they deliver, without any laid down quality of service or performance standards."

And they are furious that these firms are taking the profitable business and leaving the unattractive dregs for Royal Mail. They are calling on Ofcom to intervene in order to protect the future of Royal Mail, by stopping the "cherry picking of the profitable parts of the delivery network". CWU general secretary, Billy Hayes said: "This is about defending the postal sector. Liberalisation of postal services in this country is a mess and we'll fight for the future of this sector."

It is also calling on Ofcom to set minimum industry standards for pay and conditions, with the living wage as a minimum.

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What it means for you

If the regulator does not take these actions, the boycott will go ahead. More details of how it would work, when it would be done, and how long it would last, will be published next month. All we know so far is that it would be 'in the next few months'.

Initially it will hit any of your post that comes through these private firms - which could mean things like your bank statement or utility bills are held up for the duration. This would also cause chaos at the sorting offices, as undelivered mail piles up. If the boycott goes on for some time, this will make the processing of the other post more difficult, and there is a risk it will have an impact on all post.

Is it right?

It's a thorny subject. Clearly there are concerns for how much business Royal Mail has lost to these companies. These have intensified as one private company is running a pilot scheme delivering post in West London - so private companies could move in on this patch too.

If private companies take the profitable parts of the business, the future of the Royal Mail would be in jeopardy, which would raise the issue of who would take on the unprofitable parts of the business - like delivering to far-flung parts of the country. If a private firm was to take on the work, the prices would have to increase to make the business pay.

However, on the other hand, if private companies are willing to do the job for less, then why would anyone pay more for Royal Mail? At the moment those who benefit from competition are the large firms buying the services from cheaper private companies. However, if private services continue to expand, then maybe we will all finally have a cost-effective alternative for how we send our post.

If Ofcom steps in, it would be in order to force us to continue to pay more for Royal Mail, and there's an argument that that's not right either.

Posties may be left with a stark choice: they can either accept that competition is coming and they have to adapt in order to offer a cheaper service (either by accepting the kinds of terms and conditions on offer in the private sector or embracing modernisation), or they can fight and strike and battle their way to closure.

But what do you think? Let us know in the comments.

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