I sometimes think there’s a special relationship between postal workers and dustmen. We deliver the rubbish, they take it away again. We used to get paid per item for the junk mail we dropped through your letter box. These days we get a delivery supplement: a fixed amount per week no matter how many advertising leaflets we carry. The maximum we are allowed to deliver has also increased, to seven per household.
It’s the one thing I disagree with my union about. They say that this unaddressed mail – we call it ‘door-to-door’ – is necessary because it helps to pay my wages. I say I’d rather not be involved in delivering unwanted advertising to people who will throw it in the bin without a second glance.
There are better things we could be doing: the ‘Call and Check’ scheme developed in Jersey, for example. For the price of a special delivery letter, postal workers will knock on your door and have a brief chat, to make sure you’re all right. We can check if you’ve taken your medication, or find out if you need additional services, such as a lift to the shops, or someone to pop in for a visit. If you say yes, we’ll pass this information on to social services, the NHS or a local voluntary organisation.
We could also deliver repeat prescriptions, collect post on your behalf, remind you about hospital appointments, or supply information on available services. Postal workers would be required to go through a police check and given first aid training.
Call and Check visits can last from two to ten minutes, and the postie is supported by a customer service team, who liaise with the associated agencies and make sure that the information is co-ordinated between the different parties.
The scheme has been so successful in Jersey that, after a pilot in one area, it has been rolled out in many parts of the island. It is also being trialled in Finland, Iceland and Ireland and is being considered in the United States.
I’ve known since my early days as a postal worker that we are a lifeline for some people, albeit on a casual basis. I already collect mail for one 96-year-old and I’m always on the alert when I reach certain doors. Call and Check would formalise the arrangement and offer me the proper training and support.
It wouldn’t be hard to administer. We already put markers in our frames to show if there’s been a repeat complaint, or if someone has opted out of door-to-door. A card to remind us to call on a particular customer could be loaded into our frames on the appropriate days, with all the necessary information included.
Of course, such a scheme would involve the postal worker being responsible for a single round, which goes against the privatised Royal Mail’s philosophy of making us interchangeable cogs in a machine, who can be moved at a moment’s notice. It would make us what we used to be, valued and trusted members of the community, instead of the mere carrying devices for advertising that we’ve become.
I started working for the Royal Mail sometime after the turn of the Millennium. It was a job I had always wanted. Healthy, out in the fresh air, involving at least four hours a day of intense exercise, and a degree of autonomy, with no managers looking over my shoulder – at least while I was out on my round – it was the perfect job. Still is in many ways.
The basics of the job haven’t changed. I still walk from one address to the next sticking letters through letter boxes. What can possibly go wrong? Well a lot actually. They can destroy the industry by undermining the pension, introducing a form of fake competition, and then privatising it. Competition was introduced in the wake of the third EU Postal Services Directive of 2008, which required all postal markets to be opened up to other companies.
I say ‘fake competition’ because how can you introduce real competition into what is, in its essence, a natural monopoly?
Never has there been another piece of literature as ephemeral and touching as ‘Dear Granny Smith’.
With the loss of the traditional ‘Postie’ we also lose a precious part of ourselves. That part that remembers peoples names and birthdays. That part that never fails to bring us news from our loved ones when it rains and when it snows, when its sunny and when its cold. That part that has been there since the moment we are born, that watches us as we grow up, go to school and eventually leave home. That same part that experiences the same joy our families and loved ones feel when we write home.
‘Dear Granny Smith’ is sign of the times, but it is also a reminder that every single day there is someone on the other side of the door that knows us perhaps more than we know ourselves…
I laughed, I cried, my goodness Roy tells it as it is. I’ve been a postie for many years now and he tells us how it use to be to how it is now, the service is being ripped apart with managers at the helm who have not a clue to what our job is. I still care about my job and my customers it’s just Royal Mail is about money now. Well it’s about time the bosses understand we work for the community that we deliver to not just the company. Royal Mail, I would like to thank Roy for the book and telling all how it is, this is worth reading. It will give you all a honest insight into the goings on and what your postie is having to deal with. If you care and use the service protect what you have or else it will be gone!
I worked for Royal Mail for thirty four years. I’ve sorted mail, delivered mail, despatched mail, been rained on, been bitten by dogs, pursued by a violent gang of robbers, disciplined for minor indiscretions, stressed out and suicidal at one point. Every sentence in this wonderfully accurate book is absolutely true; it sums up just about every Royal Mail workplace in the country. I know this from bitter experience, as later in my career I left the streets and held a senior union position which afforded me the privilege of representing postmen and postwomen over a wide geographical area. Roy Mayall is someone I met every working day of my life. I’ve also met everyone of his workmates, every customer and every myopic manager, who, if they were honest (or brave) enough to speak out, could testify to the authors account of an industry being relentlessly torn apart.
This book is a “must read” for anyone who cares about public service, society, community, greed, and corporate interference.
This amusing little gem is a timely reminder of just how much so-called progress chips away at the positive aspects of our day-to-day life and often not for the better.
Streamlining a business like the Royal Mail has a human cost. “Roy Mayall” writes an warming and amusing account of how progress can often mean one step forward for the business and two steps back for employees and customers, cutting bonds in our society which have existed for over a century. One signal message for me was that we really do not pay enough to post a letter. For 30 pence a letter makes the journey from one end of the country to the other in a couple of days and in my experience very rarely goes astray – once in 60 years if I remember correctly. Try offering someone thirty pence to deliver a letter for you to the next town and be surprised if they say “Yes”. A very enjoyable read which slips easily into a handbag or pocket.
I bought this book this week and read it in an hour or so. As a Postman of 7 years I agreed with every word written. Roy has told the story of what has happened to Royal Mail. It is now a target driven machine with incompetent managers and senior directors running it. They come, do their little pep talk, bang their drum and behold they are gone. The job has changed so much in the few years that I have been working for RM. None of it for the better. This is a must read for every Postman or woman and if everyone who wants to know what’s wrong with the mail – just read this book. You will cry!!
If I had the money, I’d arrange for everyone in the country to have a copy of this book. It describes, in a concise and wryly humorous way, the consequences of a purely profit-driven mindset replacing a human-centred mindset. And it could be talking about any of the large organisations (look at the NHS!), where managers now seem to manage by spreadsheet – and who no longer manage ‘people’ but ‘human resources’ or ‘human capital’ whose job is to follow orders and concentrate on ‘hitting targets’. Well done, Roy Mayall, for telling it how it is – now what can we, the Granny and Grandpa Smiths, do about it?
This book is the most accurate account of what It’s like to be a postman. Being a postman myself I can understand the frustration has we fight to keep our much loved postal service in Public hands. We have one of the cheapest and best postal services in the World, but with the present management dogma of cost cutting at the expense of quality, we know where it will lead. This book is witty and honest, even if your not interested in the postal system people will be able to relate to these modern management practises within their own jobs. First class book.
I first came across this on radio 4 in serialised form and decided I had to have it in my collection. Very informative, a real hoot, humorously a Sad condemnation of today’s Post Office Management. This should be compulsory reading for every Politician in our so-called Government. I take my hat off to this Author.
I started working for the Royal Mail sometime after the turn of the Millennium.
It was a job I had always wanted. Healthy, out in the fresh air, involving at least four hours a day of intense exercise, and a degree of autonomy, with no managers looking over my shoulder – at least while I was out on my round – it was the perfect job. Still is in many ways.
The basics of the job haven’t changed. I still walk from one address to the next sticking letters through letter boxes. What can possibly go wrong?
Well a lot actually. They can destroy the industry by undermining the pension, introducing a form of fake competition, and then privatising it.
The pension was undermined between 1990 and 2003 when the company took a pensions holiday, failing to pay its share into the pension pot. They could not possibly have done this without the agreement of the government. This left an £8bn pension deficit, later rising to £10bn, which the government used as a way to begin the privatisation narrative. Look, the Royal Mail is failing, they said: we need to privatise it. It nationalised the liability – taking the pension deficit in-house – while beginning the process of selling off the assets on the cheap to its mates in the private sector.
I say ‘fake competition’ because how can you introduce real competition into what is, in its essence, a natural monopoly?
The Royal Mail – or Post Office as it was more commonly known – had only ever been in the public sector during its entire 500 year history. It had created the whole distribution network – the systems, the methods, the procedures – as a seamless unity. Indeed, there’s a good argument to say that the Royal Mail is responsible for the creation of our modern-day nation. It brought together the different parts of the country by giving everyone an address and a post code, accessible to all for the price of a single stamp.
How can there be real competition when one company, and one company alone, is required, under the Universal Service Obligation (USO) to deliver to every address, no matter how remote, in the whole of the United Kingdom: not only from Land’s End to John o’Groats, but from the Scilly Isles to the Outer Hebrides, from the Isle of Wight to the Isle of Man?
It’s easy to make a profit delivering from city to city, from London to Manchester to Glasgow, or from district to district inside the same city: much harder if you take in all the towns and villages as well; almost impossible if you include every isolated cottage, croft or farmstead in between. Only the Royal Mail is obliged to deliver to all of these.
The way they engineered the competition was through a process called ‘downstream access’. Previous privatisations gave access to the industry network – the electricity grid, the water pipes or the gas pipes – to all the rival companies on an equal basis.
In the case of the postal industry the equivalent of this was us: the postal workers on our rounds.
So the Royal Mail’s rivals were allowed to bid for the bulk mail and city-to-city contracts of all the main services – the banks, the utilities, the NHS, Amazon, eBay and all the rest – and then expect us to deliver it for them.
In other words, in this industry, me and my labour – my living, breathing, heart-pumping, energetic body – is viewed as the equivalent of the tangles of copper wires or the networks of underground pipes that serve as the infrastructure in other parts of the economy.
Even then the other companies would have been unable to make a mark. The Royal Mail was too big and too well-established. It could have crushed the other companies underfoot. So the government introduced a principle called ‘headroom’. When the Royal Mail charged the other companies for its downstream access services, it was obliged to leave financial space for them to make a profit.
So there was never a ‘free market’. It was a highly regulated market from the outset: that is, the Royal Mail was regulated in order to allow the other companies the freedom to compete with each other.
And then there was privatisation, which took place in October 2013, as I’m sure you all remember.
Part of the justification for this was that people’s habits were changing. People didn’t send letters any more: they sent emails and texts instead.
If you listen to the Royal Mail, they will tell you that there has been a 40% drop in mail volumes in the last ten years. This might be true, although there does seem to be a marked increase in advertising mail at the same time. But the one thing they failed to mention was the increase in packets. The same technology that has effaced the ancient and noble art of letter-writing – never something the majority of the population engaged in anyway – has also, at the same time, allowed us to buy our goods online.
This has been by far the greatest shift in the industry since the onset of the digital revolution: the sheer number of packets we carry, a much more profitable enterprise.
I can’t believe the government hadn’t predicted this when they decided to sell off the Royal Mail, or that experts in the industry weren’t already aware of it.
In other words, it’s been one giant-sized con from beginning to end.
The other element that comes into this has been the separation of the Post Office from the Royal Mail.
The Post Office has always made a loss. The Royal Mail has always made a profit. By retaining the Post Office in public hands, while selling off the Royal Mail, they’ve ensured ever increasing profits for the private sector, and ever increasing burdens for the public.
There’s been extraordinary pressure on Post Office Ltd, the government owned company that runs the counters that sell you your stamps, to cut costs and make efficiency savings. What this has meant is that post offices are being franchised out into supermarkets, where the staff are paid at retail trade rates under minimum hours contracts, rather than the well-paid and secure jobs that skilled post office workers used to command. The Post Office is no more than a minor adjunct of the retail industry these days.
Most post offices are also grossly understaffed, which has meant massive queues this Christmas… and for all Christmases to come, unless the industry is brought back together again.
I’ve called this piece ‘The Year They Privatised Christmas’. That’s because the Royal Mail was always an integral part of the Christmas story.
Still is. We deliver all your Christmas cards and most of your parcels. All holiday rights are cancelled for the season, and most postal workers – at least in the past – were willing to go into serious levels of overtime to get the job done. Our MP always comes down to the office to congratulate us on our work. We are like modern day Father Christmases in our red vans, wrapped up against the cold in our red fleeces, delivering presents to your door.
By privatising the Royal Mail the government has effectively privatised Christmas.
It has turned me into a mere utility: an overground delivery system without a will of my own.
The management may not be looking directly over my shoulder, but they make me carry a PDA – a ‘postal delivery assistant’: effectively a tracking device – which tells them where I am and where and am heading every minute of the day.
They make me work harder and faster for the same basic wage. They are constantly ratcheting up the pace and the work load, to make sure I do more work in the same number of hours. They have degraded me and degraded my job in order to squeeze out more profits for their shareholders.
So you won’t be surprised to hear that most of the good will is gone. Postal workers are less and less likely to go into overtime. We are less and less likely to want to do management any favours.
That’s why we voted so overwhelmingly to strike in October – 89.1 per cent in favour on a turnout of 73.7 per cent – not only to secure our pensions and our jobs, but also to secure the future of the Royal Mail – and Christmas! – for all.
Today is the last day for sending first-class post if you want it to arrive before Christmas. You’re lucky there’s anyone to deliver it. In October, the Communication Workers Union held a ballot which came out overwhelmingly in support of strike action – 89.1 per cent in favour on a turnout of 73.7 per cent – but the Royal Mail got a High Court injunction to stop the strike.
If you believe Royal Mail, letter volumes have declined by 40 per cent in the last ten years as people have increasingly taken to email. But there doesn’t seem to be any noticeable loss from where postal workers are standing. In fact, volumes are as high as they’ve ever been. It’s true that people don’t write so many personal letters any more – that was always a minority interest anyway – but the loss of personal mail has been more than compensated for by a marked increase in advertising mail. I’m sure you’ve noticed it too.
It’s a joke in the office. ‘Figures are down,’ we say, while loading all those extra bags into the back of the van. And it’s here we see a really strange thing in the conduct of the postal industry in the UK. There are just as many letters as there were before privatisation, but many of them are now ‘handled’ by rival mail companies like UK Mail and TNT, who, while they take the profit for handling it, don’t actually deliver it. We deliver it. Yes, that’s right: the Royal Mail delivers its rivals’ mail. Management tells us that if we go on strike it will strengthen our rivals, but without us, our rivals can’t exist.
The rival mail companies are allowed to use Royal Mail staff and equipment to deliver their post, through a process called ‘downstream access’; at the same time, none of them is hampered by the Universal Service Obligation, which requires the Royal Mail to deliver to every household in the country, no matter how remote.
Meanwhile, the privatised Royal Mail is now under an obligation to increase profits to pass on to shareholders. What this means is that there is growing pressure to cut costs, to deliver the same amount of mail using fewer staff.
The way they achieve this is through a process called ‘lapsing’. What they do is to break down two or three rounds in the office into their constituent parts – they ‘collapse’ the frames – thus saving on the wages of the workers who would otherwise have delivered those rounds. They then hand the extra bundles on to the rest of us to deliver.
Which is fine on a light day, but these days we lapse almost every day; and because of the pressure to cut costs there is no longer any spare capacity in the office. There aren’t enough staff, and if something unexpected happens, like one or two people going off sick, or a surge of mail, there isn’t the man-power to cope. This is when mail gets left behind. This is when third-class mail is given priority over first-class.
Which is what happened recently. There was a last-minute surge of mail, including a significant quantity of first class letters. Well, I say ‘last-minute’. It was last-minute as far as delivery staff were concerned, but the management, who brought it in from the lorries, and the people who run the sorting machines, must have known it was there all along.
There were howls of protest from the staff. How are we going to sort and deliver this, and take out the lapsed mail?
That’s when I heard something I’d never heard before in all my years as a postman: instead of dropping the lapsed mail, some of which was just the third-class advertising junk known as Mailsort, we were told to leave the first-class mail under our desks.
You may ask why they did this. And the answer is: I have no idea. But I can take an educated guess. It was about saving money. They didn’t have anyone to take out the lapsed mail, so, rather than bring in casual workers, which would have cost them, they decided to delay the first-class mail instead.
None of this happened when we were publicly owned. First-class mail was always given priority, and most postal workers were willing to go into overtime to get it delivered. Not any more.
I had an interesting conversation the other day with the manager who allocates the annual leave. They’ve just brought in a new system. You have to specify the date in one box, and then the day in another box, two boxes for each day, on one half of the sheet; and then do the whole thing again on the second half of the sheet, which they return to you if your request is denied. Meanwhile they allocate dates for you which you haven’t requested, which you then have to ask to be removed: again two boxes for each day, on two halves of the same sheet. The whole sheet is a maze of boxes and dates and days which you have to negotiate your way through. If you fail to fill it in correctly your request will be denied.
In the old days you just asked for the days you wanted and, if certain days were over subscribed, you would have a conversation about it. Sitting in the office with the Line Manager talking about your annual leave was one of the pleasures of the job for both parties.
So I complained about the fact that my last lot of requests hadn’t been given and that I was still being landed with a holiday in February which I didn’t ask for and didn’t want.
The manager was being particularly obstreperous about it. It was obvious that he enjoyed the power he had over me. He said, “we’re not here to please you. This is a business now. It’s the interests of the business that come first.”
The joke here is that neither this manager, nor the management of the Royal Mail as a whole, are businessmen. They are bureaucrats. Very few, if any, of them have ever had any experience outside the Royal Mail. They learnt their trade in a 500 year old state owned industry, not in the cut and thrust of the business world. The basic requirement since privatisation, to cut costs in order to increase profits, is the perfect excuse for them to become even more belligerently awkward than they already were.
War of attrition
Recently there’s been a war of attrition going on in our office. I imagine that it has been repeated in offices up and down the country. We are allowed 40 minutes break in total. We have to take 20 minutes indoors early on in the shift but, according to our national agreement, we are allowed the take the second 20 minutes at the end of the shift, which in the past meant we would go home early. Then management started making people stay in the office for this last 20 minutes which meant that people who had previously had time to pick up their kids from school were no longer able to do so.
How this is in the interests of the business is anyone’s guess.
This is on top of negotiations currently taking place with the CWU over changes to our pension plan, with the union threatening to take a ballot on industrial action if the current defined-benefit pension scheme is closed, as the company proposes, next year.
There are also proposed changes to our working practices, with rumours flying around about what this will mean. There’s talk of a six hour delivery span, of longer and shorter days, of longer hours in the Winter and shorter hours in the Summer, of working in teams and of having our dedicated rounds taken away from us: a whole raft of possible changes which will make the job unrecognisable from what it was.
Most posties took the job because they liked the early hours: but the hours are getting later and later, and the new proposals want to put them back even more.
Most posties took the job because they like working on their own, but new delivery methods sees us working in pairs, and the new proposals want to bring in even larger teams in order to cover sick leave, annual leave and rest days without overtime.
The job is arduous as it is, involving four to four and a half hours of intense activity, walking and carrying weight. A six hour delivery span will be impossible for all but the youngest and most fit members of staff.
And now they want to take our pensions away from us as well.
Is it any wonder that relationships between management and the work force are at an all time low?
As for how all these changes will affect you, the public, I’ll just give one illustration.
In fact, for all the fact that postal work is a menial job, it does involve a high degree of responsibility. We get very close to our customers: intimate even. We know when you are at home and when you are away. We know when marriages are breaking down or when the kids are leaving home. We handle your credit cards and your bank statements. We deliver your birthday and Christmas cards, which can contain cash or gift vouchers. Occasionally thieves will pass through the office, opening your mail in the hope of finding goodies; but they invariably get caught, because customers soon begin to notice their mail is being tampered with, and at the moment it’s easy to locate by whom.
Larger teams will make this increasingly difficult. The lack of a dedicated round will remove the trust from the relationship between posties and their customers. It’s already true on some rounds that you don’t know from day to day who will be walking up your garden path and looking in through your front window: if these changes take place then this will become true of all rounds.
The future is looking increasingly bleak in the postal industry.
If you are in debt, he says, you should use the money to pay down the debt. If you are in credit, you should spend it.
Give money to a rich person and they will hoard it in an offshore account, thus withholding it from the economy.
Give it to an ordinary person, on the other hand, and they would spend at least some of it. They would buy a new three-piece suite, or a new kitchen. They would go on holiday. New clothes for the kids. A new hairdo. They would decorate their house or build a garden shed. They would spend what they felt they could afford.
Spending money creates jobs which gives more people more money to spend. The money goes round and round and the economy grows.
#Positive Money have estimated that of every pound of that £375 billion created by the Bank of England and given to the banks, only 8p went into the real economy.
If, on the other hand, they had given it to us, the people, every pound would have generated £2.80 worth of economic activity and everyone would have been better off.
Isn’t it time we had some new thinking about money?
A letter came through the post this morning. I don’t know who it was from. It was addressed to “Mr Mailman”, with a heart in place of the dot above the i, and a picture of a sleeping cat, with a toy dinosaur on its back.
Here is the picture:
It looks like the cat is dreaming about being a dinosaur and letting out that wild electric roar like forked lightning to frighten away its enemies.
The envelope was green with circles and star shapes, and a big hand drawn star in the middle, which is where my address was written.
The letter itself was written on the inside of the envelope.
At the top it said “stuff + cats = awesome”.
Here is the text of the letter, written, like the envelope, in a simple, unselfconscious, hand, with hearts where all the dots and apostrophes usually go.
It said: “Dear Mr Mailman, my mum says that you always deliver our mail. Even when it rains. Even in the snow.
“I don’t go out in the rain, but I love to play in the snow. I like both. The rain and the snow.
“Anyhow, you will always bring us our mail everyday. You bring me cards from my Grandma on my birthday, and Christmas and you bring us pictures from amerika from my other Nan, even when it will rain.
“My mum says you know my name, she says you know everybody’s name, and that you work hard for us everyday in the rain and in the sun and in the snow. That is amazing.
“Mr Mailman you are amazing. AMAZING!
“LOVE from Evie.R.Body xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx”
There were 16 kisses and the word “Amazing” appeared both times inside a hand drawn star. The word “everyday” was double underlined.
I can honestly say that was one of the best letters I’ve ever had.
Sometimes my job can be very hard. I often come home from work and just fall asleep, exhausted. That letter made it feel good to be a postman.
So I’d just like to say thank you to Evie.R.Body, whoever you might be. And just as you have written it from everybody, to me, so I think I will dedicate it to all the other postal workers in the world.
So remember this postal workers – or mail men and women, or posties, or whatever you call yourself in your part of the world: You are ALL AMAZING.