The privatised Royal Mail will get a Christmas bonanza – but not us posties

Goodwill among delivery workers is in short supply. After years of being sidelined and ignored, I’m refusing to put in overtime

From the Guardian, Comment is free: Wednesday 18 December 2013 11.10 GMT

A postal worker sorts parcels: ‘no matter how good technology gets, it will never be possible to send a parcel by email’. Photograph: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

Christmas arrived for us posties on Wednesday the 4th of December this year. The start of the week had been quiet, with just a trickle of festive mail, but on the Wednesday there was suddenly an avalanche of post falling on top of us: thousands of cards and hundreds of parcels, as well as all the usual advertising, Christmas catalogues and charity begging letters. It’s been like that ever since.

I must admit I don’t deliver all of it. I sort it, bag it up, and deliver some of it. The rest I pass on to one of my colleagues to deal with. For the first time since I started working for the Royal Mail over 10 years ago, I “cut off” on my round: that is I work my hours and refuse to go into overtime.

In fact, if it wasn’t for the influx of temporary staff, or the army of casual workers on rolling contracts, the Christmas mail would never get delivered. It always used to be a matter of pride to me that I would finish the job, no matter how hard it got. Not any more. There are a number of reasons for this. First, they got rid of our bikes and replaced them with trolleys, meaning that mail delivery now involves four hours or more of relentless walking, a much more tiring activity than cycling.

Second, they moved our delivery office to the nearest city, several miles away. I now have a half-hour commute to get to work in the mornings, a half-hour drive to get to my round, another half-hour to get back to the office and yet another half-hour drive home again. I used to cycle into work and then cycle to my round. I was far more inclined to do overtime when it took place 10 minutes from home. It is much less appealing when it means driving home late, tired and in the dark.

Third, all the goodwill I used to have has gone. I no longer feel any loyalty towards the company I work for. Years of being sidelined and ignored, of a failure to consult over the most fundamental aspects of my working life, has left me feeling estranged. I used to love my work. These days it’s “just a job”: something I do because I have to, not because it gives my life any meaning any more.

I’m not the only one who feels this way. Privatisation has merely intensified the mood. Of course, if you were to believe Vince Cable or his advisers, you’d think that without privatisation the Royal Mail would be finished by now. Figures are down, they used to tell us. People are using email and text these days, they don’t need a postal service any more.

Christmas is a reminder that this was always nonsense. People don’t send Christmas texts instead of cards, and no matter how good the technology gets, it will never be possible to send a parcel by email.

Indeed, this is the distinguishing characteristic of this year’s Christmas mail: the sheer number of parcels we have to deliver. I’ve never seen so many. The great skill of our job these days is in keeping a track of them, in knowing how to incorporate them into the rest of the mail.

The very technology they claimed spelled doom for the postal service allows people to go online at any time of the day or night, buying stuff on eBay and Amazon, most of which gets sent through the post. These could be the boom years for the Royal Mail as the margin of profit on parcels is much greater than it is on letters.

Even before privatisation profits were increasing. Pre-tax profits were £233m for the six months to 29 September, up from £94m a year earlier. This was all within the public sphere, so no one can pretend that privatisation had anything to do with it. In other words, everyone knew that there was a bonanza on its way. The real point of privatisation, it seems, has been to allow the private sector to cash in on it.

6 thoughts on “The privatised Royal Mail will get a Christmas bonanza – but not us posties

Add yours

  1. Yawn yawn yawn, another boring whiner who’s decided he’s going to “work to rule” because he can’t understand the decisions taken by his superiors. Bring on privatisation, so we can weed out lazy lefties like the author, and benefit from the increase in efficiencies that privatisation has always, and will always, bring.

      1. Yes you do, they are the people above your in the hierarchy. Your attitude explains why you are still trudging the streets, and haven’t bettered yourself. Keep moaning, and see where it gets you…

      2. OK, you’ve got me thinking here. Yes, it’s true, by one definition I have “superiors” because there are people above me in the hierarchy. So does that make me “inferior”? This is the language of feudalism, of course, a state to which I believe we are fast returning, as our economic elite accumulate more and more wealth at the expense of the rest of us, and wield increasing political power in our world. To me that is a retrograde step. You can call me a leftie if you like, call me lazy and a whiner for having opinions and the ability to express them, but I’m a natural byproduct of that false hierarchy: the man who will always stand opposed to illegitimate power. And I’m not alone.

  2. Hi Roy. I know how you feel, although I personally am happy to get the overtime, you are well within your rights to work your hours. I don’t like the terms “cutting off” or “work to rule”, you’re not aiming to finish early, merely on time.

    I’ve enjoyed your posts and columns and even if you do seem to have a strange attachment to the bicycle you are mostly correct in what you say. This is now a target oriented business, with everything computer modeled according to average figures, from the amount of letters and flats you sort to the speed you walk. Of course, 50% of the time you’re going to go over.

    The tools managers and “planning teams” have used, such as Georoute, only work if you put the correct data in to start. Garbage in, garbage out, as an old programming term used to say. Managers have fixed budgets and hours allotted and tend to struggle to make things fit sometimes.

    It’s not the worst job in the world, being a postman – it pays the bills!

    1. Hi Simion, the point about the bike is that it is sustainable technology. My attachment to it comes from the fact that, in a world which is fast going down the petro-chemical pan, the bike offers us an effective alternative. Bikes are simply the most efficient machines on the planet – bar none. It’s not that I’m wedded to my own bike, it’s that the company could have been a bit more creative with its use of technology and – like the Germans – come up with some alternative to the current one-size-fits-all solution. Like power assisted bikes, for instance, or even mopeds. The current system is just daft and I really am less efficient than I was previously, doing less work in the same time. How that can be described as “modernisation” I have no idea.

      But, you’re right, it’s not the worst job in the world. I’d rather get rained on than work in an office any day!

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