Members of the Communication Workers Union (CWU) have voted for strike action in the Wirral. It’s over Royal Mail’s decision to sack four of their colleagues – for having a cup of tea in a pub while on an authorised break. It seems that local politicians and the public are behind the workers, too – the company once again looking red-faced.
Royal Mail: sacking staff for drinking tea
In July, Royal Mail suspended 11 workers for drinking tea and coffee in two different pubs while on their breaks. In August, bosses fired six of them over the incidents – however it appears they have since reinstated two workers. The CWU said in a press release that:
The decision was met with anger by an already demoralised workforce of around 30 employees – as well as in the wider community, which has been subject to persistent postal delays due to under-recruitment and management cuts.
Moreover, it seems the reason Royal Mail could sack the workers in the first place was because it was using a controversial system to track them:
REFUSE to work where you are tracked!
Postal workers from Royal Mail’s Prenton Delivery Office say the company used tracking info taken from hand-held Postal Digital Assistant devices – 11 workers were SUSPENDED for drinking tea & coffee at pubs, during their entitled break times https://t.co/4MkXclCCvK
— Comrade🐣Shpakova☭ #ArtsakhGenocide😤 (@SE_Shpakova) August 20, 2023
Read on...Support us and go ad-free
Back in February, the Canary reported on Royal Mail’s use of Postal Digital Assistants (PDAs). At the time, then-boss Simon Thompson lied to parliament saying Royal Mail did not use PDAs to track workers’ whereabouts and make sure they’re delivering quickly enough. It quickly came to light that Royal Mail bosses did do this, though.
Parliament asked the data regulator to investigate Royal Mail’s use of PDAs against staff – as it may breach the law. Yet still, bosses in the Wirral have done explicitly what Thompson previously denied was happening.
The suspensions, then sackings, have caused chaos. As the WirralGlobe reported in August:
The suspensions… led to widespread disruption of postal services since July across Prenton and Oxton with mail not arriving and some people missing hospital appointments as a result.
Now, the CWU has taken action.
CWU: everybody out?
The union balloted workers at the Prenton Delivery Office in Wirral over strike action in solidarity with the sacked staff members. The CWU said on 24 October that members voted by 95.8% on a 70.6% turnout to take strike action.
Before workers take strike action, however, the CWU is “demanding” that bosses negotiate with it. The union wants management to reinstate all the sacked workers.
Local Liberal Democrat councillor Allan Brame previously told HR Magazine:
Postal deliveries in Oxton and Prenton have been totally chaotic since the management at the Prenton delivery office suspended 11 posties.
It seems their ‘offence’ was to park up at the Caernarvon Castle for a coffee during their break time.
The reaction of the management was completely disproportionate to the perceived offence and has left people waiting for urgent mail and missing medical appointments.
Members of the public have been equally unimpressed. As the Wirral Globe reported, one person said:
he thought the suspension was “such an overblown reaction,” adding: “It’s such a solitary job being a postie being out all day so why not meet up with your colleagues?”
A bigger problem than just tea and sackings in the Wirral
A CWU spokesperson said:
The result is a clear demonstration of the anger workers feel about this petty, vindictive attack on their respected colleagues.
It is a clear rejection of a culture of bullying and mismanagement in the workplace.
This situation won’t be solved by management doubling down on poorly-handled decisions, but with a decent compromise that sees these workers reinstated and the workforce treated with the respect they deserve.
Clearly, Royal Mail bosses sacking workers for doing nothing wrong during their legitimate breaks is preposterous. However, the real issue here is the company’s snooping on its staff at every turn. It’s something the nationwide CWU deal with Royal Mail, in the wake of its protracted industrial dispute, failed to address.
So, once the CWU has forced the hand of bosses in Wirral, it needs to urgently address the use of PDAs across the business. Spying on staff on their lawful breaks, and tracking them generally, is dystopian and unethical. Royal Mail should halt the practice immediately.
Featured image via the Times and the Sunday Times – YouTube
We know everyone is suffering under the Tories - but the Canary is a vital weapon in our fight back, and we need your support
The Canary Workers’ Co-op knows life is hard. The Tories are waging a class war against us we’re all having to fight. But like trade unions and community organising, truly independent working-class media is a vital weapon in our armoury.
The Canary doesn’t have the budget of the corporate media. In fact, our income is over 1,000 times less than the Guardian’s. What we do have is a radical agenda that disrupts power and amplifies marginalised communities. But we can only do this with our readers’ support.
So please, help us continue to spread messages of resistance and hope. Even the smallest donation would mean the world to us.