If private companies can pick the best bits of the network, the obligation to deliver to all is undermined. That’s why we’re considering action.
From the Guardian, Comment is free, Thursday 6 December 2012 15.05 GMT
Read more here.
At the Royal Mail you are sometimes made to come into work even when you are sick or injured. It’s called the ‘Attendance Procedure’.
They monitor your attendance. If you are off work more than a certain number of days they put you under threat of dismissal. It doesn’t matter how ill you are, they still threaten you.
If you are off work for sickness or injury more than three times in a year, or for more than three weeks in a row, you are given a warning. This is a Stage 1 warning. If you go over the limit a second time you are given another warning. This is a Stage 2 warning. If you exceed the limit for a third time you are given a Stage 3 warning and threatened with dismissal. After that you can’t afford to take time off from work no matter how severe the illness.
The Attendance Procedure works whether you are ill or not. All absences are assumed to be illnesses, but all illnesses, no matter how severe, count towards your absences. So a day off from work with a hangover is counted the same as a week off from work for a hernia operation; and a month off work after a heart attack will count the same as three separate days off for sheer laziness. Hernia operations and hangovers and heart attacks are all counted the same in the Royal Mail book of illnesses.
So say you have an accident and you’re off work for more than three weeks. At this point the office starts to ring you up asking when you will be back at work. They will ring you up daily, hassling you to come back to work. And no matter how ill you have been, you will get a warning when you do eventually come back.
You could come in on crutches, and you’d be given a warning. You could be bandaged up to the eyeballs. You could have coughed up your oesophagus. It makes no difference. You’ve been off work, so you will be warned. Three weeks off twice in a year and you’re up for dismissal, and that’s that.
We’ve all seen it. People who have had heart attacks or hernias, or some other major illness, crawling into work to avoid the warning, or hauled up before the “lino” (as we call the manager) and given a reprimand. People under severe stress, or with depression. People with broken arms or legs or twisted backs. People on medication, too drugged up to walk in a straight line, pleading for some understanding.
It’s no good protesting that you are ill. The lino loves his job. He will smile at you – sweetly, or gravely, or maliciously, depending on his personality – and say he’s sorry. But he’s not sorry really. He doesn’t have the choice, he’ll say, the computer has flagged you, and you have to be given a warning. No space for personal initiative here, or judgement, or an intelligent weighing up of the circumstances: you’ve had too much time off and you will be punished.
Also, one day off counts the same as a week. So if you’re off for one day you might as well take the week off. If you underestimate your illness and come back to work too soon, only to find you are still ill, or the illness recurs, and you take another day off, this will count as two absences, and the computer will flag it, and you’ll be one step nearer a warning.
The result of all of this is twofold. One: you will take a week off work even for the slightest illness. Two: you will sometimes have to go into work even if you are sick and contagious.
In other words, the Royal Mail would rather you came into work and make everyone else sick than allow the possibility that occasionally people might ring in sick and take a day off because the wife is feeling horny that morning.
Such is life in the modern Royal Mail.
The Royal Mail is undertaking a major modernisation programme at the moment. Gone are the old, worn-out, Victorian ways of doing things, to be replaced by new, sleek, 21st Century methods.
Gone are the traditional, old fashioned bikes, for example, in use for more than a hundred years, to be replaced by golf-trolleys.
Here are some of the many ways in which golf-trolleys have proved themselves more modern than bikes:
You have to walk with a golf-trolley. You cannot scoot, glide, pedal or push. You cannot relax on a downhill run and allow the bike to take the weight. Obviously this means you are much slower with a golf-trolley than with a bike, making the round that much longer. But it has the advantage that you are expected to walk at a steady four miles an hour, which means that the computer back in the office can calculate exactly where on your round you are supposed to be. See how modern this is? It means that the man on the ground is connected to a computer. And computers are very modern.
A golf-trolley has only two positions. You can push it, or you can pull it. This is unlike the bike, which has numerous positions. You can push a bike and park it. You can push from the right hand side or you can push from the left. You can leave a bike and walk. You can scoot a bike. You can use your left leg to scoot, or your right. You can get on your bike and pedal. You can pedal standing up or you can pedal sitting down. Or you can simply sit on a bike and let it freewheel down a slope. This is obviously wrong. The Royal Mail doesn’t pay its workers to sit on bikes. It pays its workers to work. This is why the golf-trolley is much superior to the bike. The work is much harder with a golf-trolley than it is with a bike. The Royal Mail workers go home much more tired than they used to do. They ache in every bone. See how modern this is? It means the Royal Mail is getting its money’s worth.
In the old days postal workers used to park up their bikes and do a loop. They would take a bundle of letters, walk up one side of the road, and then down the other. Then they would pick up their bike and cycle on to the next loop. The new delivery method is very similar. It is called “Park & Loop”. Except that instead of a bike, the postie now uses a van. This too is much more modern than a bike. Bikes don’t use diesel, whereas vans do. Bikes don’t give off Carbon Dioxide gases, whereas vans do. Bikes are cheap, whereas vans are expensive. Bikes don’t get caught in traffic, whereas vans do. Bikes don’t break down all that often, and when they do they are easy and cheap to fix, whereas when a van breaks down it has to be hauled off to a workshop. And the vans aren’t fixed in-house any more, they are fixed by a sub-contractor attached to the dealer. Meanwhile the Royal Mail has tied itself to the dictators and despots in the oil producing countries, and to a technology with hardly any future. You can’t get more modern than that.
Bikes are easy to park, whereas vans are not. Bikes can be parked on the pavement, whereas vans have to be parked on the road. Vans cannot be parked where there are double yellow lines, whereas a bike can. Bikes can be leaned against a tree or on the nearest wall, whereas a van has to spend time looking for a parking place. This is the modern way of going about things. If it isn’t difficult, it isn’t worth doing. It keeps the Royal Mail workers on their toes, having to think. It blocks the rest of the traffic up while the postie parks the van, causing more hold ups and more frustration, the way the modern world was meant to be.
Bikes can be used in a number of different ways: as a road vehicle, or on the pavement, as a trolley, as a scooter, as a work-station, as a place to sort and store your mail. There are several different parts to a bike. There’s the tray on the front for carrying bags, and the panniers on the back for carrying parcels. There’s the rack over the rear wheel which can be used to sort the mail. You can use the panniers for itemising the mail and helping you to remember. One pannier can be used for parcels still to be delivered, and the other for parcels which have to be returned to the office. This too is an advantage that vans and golf-trolleys have over bikes. Bikes are obviously too versatile for the modern world. Versatility is an old-fashioned virtue, like politeness or decency or cheerfulness or being concerned about our customer’s welfare. Such things can be dispensed with in the new, thrusting 21st Century world.
The new delivery method involves parking up the van, getting out the golf-trolley, loading it up with bags, and then doing a loop. There are two posties in the van, doing two loops simultaneously. This has the advantage that the two posties might be travelling at different speeds. One of them might be a slow and steady type who does everything by the book. The other might be a flyer. He might jog along, skipping over walls and obstacles along the way. One postie might be old, the other might be young. One might be worn-out the other might be fit. One might be cautious the other might be carefree. This too is a good thing. Posties love their job because they love working on their own. They like going at their own speed and not being obliged to other people. Who says posties should love their job? They should learn to hate it like everyone else.
The rule with the golf-trolley is that you have to take it everywhere you go. You cannot park it up and leave it, as you can a bike. A bike can be locked, whereas a golf-trolley cannot. What this means is that both hands are full. One hand is carrying the bundle, the other hand is pushing the trolley. You cannot rifle through the bundle as you are walking. You have to stop at the end of every path, sort through your bundle, and then deliver. This slows you up even more. This is a good thing. It means the postal worker is only doing one thing at a time. He is either walking or he is sorting through the mail. Postal workers are notoriously inept. They cannot walk, fart and sort at the same time. There are walking times and sorting times and farting times and each has its proper place. Walking while farting is not allowed either. In order to fart one must stop still until the gaseous emission has been satisfactorily expelled before continuing on one’s way.
Golf-trolleys were originally designed for carrying golf-clubs. So naturally it would have occurred to Royal Mail executives to use them for carrying the mail. The idea must have arrived on a golf-course. One day an executive was playing golf. It was a working day so of course he was playing golf. And he realised just how much weight his golf-trolley could take. A whole heavy golf-bag of full of clubs. He had his caddy with him. It was like a neon light flickering on in his head, a sudden burst of illumination. Of course! Postal workers are just like caddies really. Why not get them to use golf-trolleys instead of bikes? And he swung his six iron and landed straight on the green.
But the main advantage of the new delivery method over the old is that it doesn’t in any way take the worker’s needs into account. It was imposed from above, without consultation with the staff. It was devised in the drawing room, in the office and the boardroom. It was negotiated with the union and then presented as a fait accompli. It was either take it or leave it and take early retirement. No other choice was on offer. It doesn’t matter whether it is more efficient or less. What matters is that it has created a new disincentive for the workforce to care about their job. It has alienated the worker even more. It has reinforced the worker’s view of himself as a replaceable cog in a large and complex machine. It has reminded him of just how meaningless he is. This, of course, is entirely right and proper, because this is all he is, and the sooner he gets used to it, the better.
Welcome to the modern world.
There are a number of dogs on my round.
As you may know, dogs and posties have a very particular relationship. This is not a myth. It is very real. Dogs are territorial creatures and we break into their territory. We break the bounds of what they consider their own by walking up the garden path and then sticking something through the door. We are strangers, not friends. We are not invited. The owner of the house doesn’t welcome us in with a handshake or an embrace. We simply stand at the door, a dark shadow, and intrude into their space. We shove something through the door and it makes a noise. The door flaps and rattles and the thing falls on the floor with a thump, and after that we turn and walk away again.
We excite something in dogs which is primal and deep and they react to this in a variety of different ways.
I meet the first dog on my round within about a minute and a half of starting. I don’t see much of it as it only appears through the frosted glass of the front door. It is small and white, a terrier of some sort, about a foot long, and nine inches high. It sees me and it starts to bounce. I mean that literally. It’s like a rubber ball or a yo-yo. It bounces up and down, up and down, about five times its own height, to the level of the letter box, this hazy white blob through the glass, yapping as it leaps.Yap, bounce, yap, bounce. It’s hilarious. It looks like some mad oscillator, pulsing out a precise rhythm, always rising to the exact same point behind the glass, like the blip, blip, blip of a hospital monitor. Well at least we know the patient is healthy. It has a very strong heartbeat.
We have this game. I shove the letters through the letterbox, and it grabs them, dragging them from my fingers. Then it “kills” the letters by shaking them about and growling, after which it drops them on the mat and goes away satisfied. Occasionally I have to knock the door to get a signature, and the householder will pick the dog up. It is really very small. It lies cradled in the man’s arms, snug and secure as he answers the door, but it is always fighting to get free, yapping and growling and baring its teeth. You can see it wants to kill me.
“Oh be quiet Pip,” the man says, affectionately. But I can see it in his eyes. If Pip was a few feet bigger, and I was a few feet smaller, and we’d met in a clearing in a wood somewhere, I would be dead by now. It would have me by the throat and would be shaking me about like those letters in order to break my spine and I would be a doggy breakfast by now, a feast for all its brood.
I measure my day out in dogs. Dogs are my principle form of entertainment.
The next dog is called Barney. Barney has a very aggressive sounding growl, but you soon learn he only wants to play. There’s a little yard outside the house with a gate and as soon as Barney hears me coming he grabs his rubber toy and he starts growling, padding from foot to foot as he does so, chewing on the toy. He’s wagging his tail and looking at me from under lowered brows. He’s obviously saying something profound about the nature of reality. “Look at my rubber toy,” he’s saying. “See, I have a rubber toy.” It’s like the opening salvo in a philosophical debate.
You have to be introduced to the dogs before you pet them. Some of them are friendly, while others would take your hand off. Barney is one of the friendly variety. He only wants to show me his rubber toy.
The next set of dogs are three Jack Russells opposite each other either side of the main road. I don’t know if they are related or not. There are two in one house and one in the other. They are all equally vicious.
The first is in an old farmhouse with an extensive garden which runs right around the house. For some reason the dog doesn’t like magazines. It doesn’t mind ordinary letters, but when a magazine goes through the door it startles it and the dog goes into a kind of frenzy. It goes at that magazine like it was a rat from the sewer requiring immediate disposal. It “kills” off the magazine and then it is coming straight for me. It scatters through the house to the back door making this throaty growl. Occasionally the owner has left the back door open and it can get out. I have to exit the garden fairly quickly, closing the gate behind me, at which point the dog appears in the garden, yapping and barking and chasing up and down the length of the fence.
On one occasion the dog and the owner were in the back garden as I pushed the letters through the letter box, and the dog got to me before I could get to the gate. It was going straight for my ankles. I jumped back, startled. I was holding my bag up in front of it, trying to divert its attention, like a bull fighter does with his cloak. I wasn’t too worried whether it would bite me or not, I was more worried that it might chase me out onto the street, in which case it could have run into the road and under a car. So I was defending myself like this, waving my bag in front of it, fending off its little snapping jaws, backing away towards the gate, when the owner came round. “Ah poor little Alfie,” she said, picking the thing up and cuddling it. “Ooo you poor little thing, your heart is beating so fast. You are so scared.”
She was saying this like it was my fault the dog had gone for me, like I had scared the dog on purpose. You try to explain it to people, but they don’t understand. The relationship between dogs and postal workers is a fundamental one. It is written into the very fabric of life, part of the struggle for existence, like the relationship between predators and their prey. There will always be a rivalry between us. They don’t trust us and we don’t trust them. That dog wouldn’t be happy till it saw me lying immobile by the front door, covered in blood, my letters scattered up and down the garden path. Never mind poor little Alfie. What about poor little me?
The dogs on the other side are even crazier. I’ve only just left one Jack Russell yapping and shrieking along the garden fence, when I’m confronted by two more. These ones are in the bay window of a large detached house opposite. They jump up onto the windowsill and are barking insanely, trying to get to me through the glass. Well, one of them is. The other is in the background, bouncing around on a table, obviously brought to a pitch of hysteria by the other’s frantic yelping. The first one is so obsessed with getting to me that it is banging its nose repeatedly on the glass. It’s a wonder it doesn’t have a callus on the end of its nose, it bangs it with such persistent force. I’ve spoken to its owner. “That’s an insane dog you’ve got there, “ I say. She mutters apologetically and tells me that there are scratch marks on inside of the window where the dog’s teeth are coming into contact with the glass. That’s how mad that dog is.
OK, I have to be honest at this point. I enjoy all of this. Like I say, dogs are my principle form of entertainment. In the case of the crazy Jack Russell in the bay window, I will flap my letters in front of its face as I’m coming to the door. That makes it even more frantic. It falls off the windowsill, doing a back flip, before leaping back onto the sill, and banging its nose on the glass even more. I can make it chase around on the windowsill by flapping the letters up and down in front of its face. The other dog yelps and shrieks and scatters away, spinning on its hind legs. I’m causing mayhem in that front room. This is all part of the sport.
I have various games with the various dogs on my round. I’m sure this is mutual. Most of the dogs are awaiting my arrival. There’s one little lap dog that sits on the back of the settee. As soon as she sees me she leaps into the hall to the front door to receive the letters. Her part of the game is that she has to catch the letters before they fall on the mat. My part of the game is that I have to approach the house very quietly. If I make a noise and she knows I’m coming she will go to the front door before she’s seen me. That spoils the game as I count it as a score if I can catch her eye before she leaps down from the settee. There will usually be a few seconds of frantic barking as we hold each others gaze. She doesn’t quite know whether to confront me there through the front window, or to go to the hall to collect the letters.
I’ve spoken to the owner, a well-to-do lady of independent means. Once or twice she has had occasion to collect the letters before the dog gets to them. Or she picks the dog up. Or she might have closed the door between the living room and the hall. Whichever way, the game is spoiled. So I’ve told her: “you’re ruining our game. You’ve got to let your dog get to the door to catch the letters before they fall on the mat.”
The owner has agreed to this. “You’re the highlight of her day,” she says. “She waits for you. She is very disappointed if you don’t come.”
We enjoy the game so much that sometimes, even if I’ve not got any letters to deliver, I’ll shove something through the letter box – some junk mail or something – just to hear the frantic yelping from the other side.
And so it goes on, through a succession of dogs throughout my round. There are dogs behind doors that wait like silent predators till you shove the letters through the letter box, before grabbing them with their teeth. You have to be careful of these dogs as they could easily take your fingers off. There are dogs behind fences that chase up and down. There’s one Rottweiler that bounds at me as I come up the garden path, leaping against the wire mesh fence with incredible force. That one would kill me for sure. He shares the garden with another dog, a venerable old collie. This one is philosophical. It fixes you with a questioning stare, as if to ask, “and who do you think you are?” while the Rottweiler is circling around again getting ready for its next leap against the fence.
There are dogs in front rooms that hop about and yelp. There are dogs that chatter and dogs that whine. There are some dogs that make such a mess of the letters that the owner has had to fix a box by the front door and block up the letter box. There is one dog that tries to climb the fence to get to me. It’s one of those wire mesh fences and the dog can get about five feet up, lodging it’s paws in the interlocking diamond shapes. It is the world’s only climbing dog.
Each dog has its own personality. I have a particular relationship with every dog on my round.
In fact I know the dogs more than the owners in many cases. Most of the owners take me for granted. I’m just the postie, the feller who brings the mail, and I can be safely ignored. But for the dogs I’m an integral part of the drama of their day. I am Iago to their Othello. I am Shylock to their Antonio. I am the villain to be conquered, the enemy at the gate. I am the threat to their master or mistress, and that bunch of letters I hold and thrust through their door could easily be a bomb. Often they are locked up in their houses and I’m the only highlight till the family returns. I am the single incidence in the long hours of their day, and such is their frantic welcoming of my arrival that it would be churlish of me not to reciprocate in some way. That’s why I make a game of it. We are both bound by routine, me and the dogs. We help each other to pass the time of day.
Not all dogs are fun, however. Some dogs are dangerous. That Rottweiler, for instance: that would definitely kill me. Fortunately I know all the dogs on my round, so I know which ones are safe. But occasionally I have to do another round to cover for someone who is away, and then I might not be so up to date on which dogs are OK. There is a procedure for this. There are instruction cards for most rounds. If you are doing a new round you are supposed to take a look at the cards to see what particular requirements there might be, what threats there are. But these are not always kept up to date, and things can change very quickly.
Once I walked into a yard and a dog that was normally locked up had been let out. It was an Alsatian. It was summer. The people, who were normally at work, were on holiday. So they’d let the dog into the yard to run around, and when I came through the gate it went for me. I have two means of defence: my boots and my bag. If the bag has some mail in it, it could be heavy enough to use as a weapon. Or it could act as a diversion. You throw the bag at the dog and the dog will maul the bag first, before it comes for you. That way you can get to the gate. In this case, I didn’t have time. I was holding the bag up in front of me, dangling it in front of the dog’s nose, backing away towards the gate. But the dog had fixed me in the eye and was padding towards me, growling menacingly. It definitely meant to do me harm. Fortunately the owners came out and grabbed the dog before it could make that fatal leap. They were apologising profusely as I handed on the letters and dived out of there, my heart thumping away in my chest. That was a very near miss.
If a postie comes to a gate and there’s a dog on the other side, he can refuse to deliver the mail. He can put the letters back in his bag and walk away from there. If a dog is loose on the street, he can refuse to deliver to the whole street. Most dog attacks happen in the summer months. The kids are at home, and they forget to close the doors behind them. The dog gets out and the unsuspecting postie comes whistling up the path only to be confronted by the family pet miraculously transformed into a ravening beast.
This is a regular occurrence.
Also there are a lot more casual posties now than there used to be. They don’t get proper training. They are just thrown out on a round and told to get on with it. No one ever gets told where the dangerous dogs are and which houses to avoid. There are many more incidences of dog attacks than there used to be: approaching 5,000 ayear according to the latest figures.
One regular injury caused by dogs is bites to the fingers. I alluded to this earlier. The dog waits behind the door till you shove the letters through and makes a grab for them. Sometimes your fingers can get caught. If it’s a vicious dog you can get your fingers bitten off. It helps if you know the dog is there. Fortunately the Royal Mail have provided us with the proper equipment to avoid this particular injury. We have these little plastic implements about six inches long and one and a half inches across, like a school ruler with a slot in the end, so we can shove the mail through the door and avoid using our fingers. I don’t know what the technical name for these items might be. I call them “mail shovelling through the door thingies.” Every postal worker in the country has been issued with one of these in the last few months. I don’t know how much they cost, but, knowing the Royal Mail, they will have paid over the odds for them. Unfortunately it takes an extra five seconds or more to load the mail into the slot and to wheedle the thing through the door. It’s a complex and delicate manoeuvre, so we tend not to use them. Mine sits on a shelf on the back of my frame and I’ve never had occasion to take it out. I’d be very surprised indeed if any postal worker actually uses theirs, but I might be wrong.
Petition and links
- Call on coalition government to deliver effective solutions to irresponsible dog ownership – e-petit
- Dogs v. Posties; LRB blog
- | Dangerous Dogs – Bite Back
WWW.CWU.ORG :- Dangerous Dogs – Bite Back
Badly addressed mail
The Royal Mail have just introduced brand new walk-sequencing machines to sorting offices throughout theUK.
They are fantastic machines. They read the address, then sort the mail into the exact order they will be delivered in.
All a postal worker has to do these days is to pull a handful of letters out of the tray, and then to “throw them off” into the sorting frame. They are already in the sequence we are going to deliver them in, so it takes virtually no concentration whatsoever.
More time for workplace banter then, for discussing the football results and making jokes about your workmates’ numerous personality defects.
Sometimes, however, there is a letter which slips through the net, which evades the machine’s ability to read the correct address.
A few Christmas’s ago I had a Christmas Card addressed to Bill and Mary, The Big White House with the Double Garage, On the Corner Opposite the Oast House, the name of the village, and then the name of the county, which is Kent.
No walk sequencing machine would have stood a chance. Given a little thought on which of the Big White Houses opposite an Oast House it might have been (there were 2 Oast houses on my round) I delivered the card to who I thought was the most likely candidate.
A week after Christmas I saw the lady of the house and mentioned the card. She laughed and said yes it was for her. It was from some old friends of theirs who had only been to the house once. She had since rung, she said, and given her friends the proper address.
Here’s another story, from a colleague of mine. He’d only been a Postman for about 3 weeks, when a letter turned up that made him think that Royal Mail staff really must really care about the service.
The address read: Mrs V O’Brian, Windermere, Kent. Well there is no Windermere in Kent, of course, so the mail centre staff had looked up the nearest Delivery Office to have a Windermere Road. The name had not been recognised there and so written on the margins of the envelope was “try Tonbridge” then “not here, try Tunbridge Wells”, then “try Maidstone” and so on through 5 different towns until it had finally arrived on my friend’s desk.
As I said: 3 weeks a postman, he had no idea. So he showed it to one of the old lags who’d been in the job for 20 years or more.
“Oh yes,” he said, “that’s probably the woman at No.7, or her son up at 34. Give her a knock as she’s bound to be in.”
He did, and yes, it was her.
Another colleague told me this story. He said he had a letter addressed to a Miss so-an-so, the house with the blue door, down by the sea, near the sea front, and then the name of the town.
Like my other friend, he was new to the job, so he had no idea what to do.
Again he showed it to one of the old timers, who, by a spark of genius, recognised the name.
It wasn’t even her current name. It was her Maiden name. And the door had since been repainted. But the old postie, who knew most of the rounds in the office, and most of the customers, had a shrewd idea of who it might be.
“Try this,” he said, and gave my friend an address.
My friend delivered the letter, knocking on the door to find out, and it turned out to be the right person.
What are the chances of that?
All of which goes to show that local knowledge beats new technology when it comes to badly addressed mail.
Royal Mail may be viewed with a high level of affection by the public now, but will that still be the case after it’s privatised?
From the Guardian Comment is free
Read more here.
Angard Staffing Solutions Ltd is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Royal Mail. It doesn’t just handle temporary staff over Christmas. There appears to be no way to get a job as a postal worker these days except by going through Angard. Is this the future of work in Britain?
From the LRB blog.
Read more here.