A high-profile lawyer has waded into the debate over a group of workers looking set to take industrial action. And after The Sun launched a hatchet job on them, he says that we’ve “all got to get behind them”.
The Sun being… The Sun
On Tuesday 5 September, the Communication Workers Union (CWU) announced it will be balloting its 110,000 members who work for Royal Mail Group for strike action. In a statement passed to The Canary, it said:
The Postal Executive met today and agreed to serve notice on the employer tomorrow [Wednesday 6 September] for a National Industrial Action Ballot of the whole membership in Royal Mail Group, including Parcelforce.
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The vote comes after a sustained campaign by the CWU called ‘The Four Pillars’. It has been highlighting numerous areas in which it claims Royal Mail is letting its workers down. But if you were to believe The Sun, you’d think the possible strike was all about pensions; and that customers would be the only ones suffering.
On Friday 1 September, the tabloid ran with the headline:
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The article said that the CWU regarded a strike as its “ultimate weapon”. And a caption below a picture read:
A strike by postal staff will mean your letters and parcels will be delayed.
The paper’s general tone, meanwhile, was one of sympathy for Royal Mail – not its workers.
A lawyer steps up
Now, lawyer Peter Stefanovic has waded into the debate. He is becoming well known on social media, getting a reputation for producing video shorts that cut through mainstream media bias; ones that tell the viewer the whole story on political and social issues. And he says of the possible CWU strike:
When a union… stands up against injustice… to deliver the service that makes the profits shareholders enjoy… we’ve all got to get behind them. Because, in the end, they’re fighting for justice not just for themselves but for all of us…
The Four Pillars campaign is not just about pensions. The CWU says it represents:
four key aims of the CWU – a decent wage in retirement, a shorter working week, a redesign of the company’s pipeline and the extension of current agreements.
- Worsen the terms and conditions of existing employees.
- Introduce a two-tier workforce across all grades with lower pay rates for new staff.
- Change the ‘Managing the Surplus Framework’ (MTSF) agreement [pdf] with the CWU, which outlines payment protection for shifts, redundancy agreements etc.
- Alter the ‘Industrial Relations framework’ (IR framework, pdf) between it and the CWU, including getting rid of area union representatives.
But the pensions row is at the heart of the dispute. Royal Mail wants to end the defined benefit pension scheme; which currently gives staff a fixed yearly payment when they retire, based on their average wage. It also wants to shift workers onto a defined contribution scheme, which guarantees that workers get what they paid in when they retire; but which links any extra money to trading on the stock market.
Royal Mail says it is doing this because of costs. But the CWU says the new scheme would mean workers losing a third of their final pension pot. And the two sides have been locked in a dispute over this for most of 2017.
Royal Mail: corporate crooks?
The CWU will announce the results of the ballot on 3 October.
A Royal Mail spokesperson said:
We believe there are no grounds for industrial action. Any potential ballot in the future does not mean there will be industrial action. Industrial action – or the threat of it – undermines the trust of our customers.
But as is often the case, it is the workers who bear the brunt of what amounts to a private company raking in profits. Because senior management, for example, are not affected by the pension changes. They are on a different scheme; one which has been paying in £200,000 a year for some. And while the dispute has been going on, Royal Mail has paid out £770m in dividends to shareholders.
This situation with Royal Mail is yet another tale of a once proud and publicly-owned organisation falling foul to the reckless behaviour of private corporations and the stock markets. So as Stefanovic says, we need to “get behind” our posties. Because their fight is far bigger than just a row over pensions.
– Support the CWU campaign using the hashtag #FourPillars.
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