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Dead Letters and Daily Responsibilities

A miserable looking postal worker with a cleared frame ready to go out

Clear Frame

When we got back from our rounds the other day there was a brand new notice attached to our frames. It was a bright yellow embossed A4 sheet with the following words written upon it:

CLEAR FRAME

 

  • Your frame must be clear of all mail.
  • Redirections must be completed prior to your departure on delivery.
  • Local redirections should be sorted directly to the appropriate walk or handed to your section/line manager.
  • Dead letters must be completed prior to your departure on delivery.
  • All items on the frame that require further investigation to be clearly marked up.
  • These are your daily responsibilities.

Now this is odd as we already do most of these things. The only real change is in the way we handle the so-called “dead letters”. These are letters for people who no longer live at an address and which have been returned, often with a scrawled note on the front, such as “return to sender” or “deceased” or “this person hasn’t lived at this address for at least five years”. Sometimes the notes can be very angry.

What we do with these letters is to “kill them off”: that is we paste a little red and white sticker across the address with the reason for its return. There are various options, with tick boxes beside them. These include “Incomplete Address”, “No Such Address”, “Addressee gone away”, “Refused”, “Address inaccessible” etc. We tick the appropriate box, sign and date the sticker, and then highlight the return address on the envelope with a blue crayon. It is then returned to the sender in the hope that they will correct their mailing list.

I suspect some mailing companies never do this as the same letters from the same senders go to the same non-existent people week after week after week.

We sometimes get as many as 20-40 “deads” a day, which we normally process after our rounds are finished. It seems odd to prioritise dead mail over live mail, to delay our deliveries for the sake of a bunch of letters that no one wants. There’s no deadline for when these letters get to their destination as no one is expecting them; unlike the live letters, some of which may be of the utmost importance.

The other odd thing about this notice is the fact that the management feel compelled to put it there in the first place. It hangs over the frame, black lettering on a yellow background, like some sort of a warning.

It’s disconcerting and inappropriate as we already do these things anyway. We already know what our daily responsibilities are. We already clear the mail from our frames. We already redirect mail before we go out on delivery. We already pass local redirections to the colleagues who are responsible for them.

“Items on the frame that require further investigation” refers to letters with incomplete addresses which we might leave on the frame till we’ve worked out where they are supposed to go. They hardly need marking up as it’s obvious what they’re doing there.

The whole thing seems like a grand exercise in stating the obvious. They might as well add: “In order to post a letter you should push it through the letter box” and: “In order to walk up a garden path one foot should be placed in front of the other”.

If I was of a paranoid disposition I might think they were put there in order to deliberately upset us.

As it is, my guess is that they just represent another one of those management whims, the sort of thing that passes for work by people who sit in offices all day.

The notices dangle from the tops of the frames blocking access to some of the addresses. What this means is that, in order to sort the mail, the notices have to be folded back out of the way.

Which is where, I suspect, they will stay in the end.

Read more by Roy Mayall

  • Roy Mayall LRB blog
  • Roy Mayall | guardian.co.uk
    Roy Mayall is a pseudonym for a postal worker who has been in the job for about five years and works in a delivery office somewhere in the south-east of England. He writes a blog at roymayall.wordpress.com
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