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The Future of Work

November 2, 2011 9 comments

Royal Mail casual staff are now employed by Angard Staffing Solutions Ltd, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Royal Mail.

From the LRB blog.

With Christmas approaching, the Royal Mail is taking on 18,000 temporary staff to help cover the extra work. This happens every year. This year, though, all job enquires are being directed to a company called Angard Staffing Solutions Ltd, 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.

The normal contract is for 38 weeks (less for the temporary Christmas workers). Staff are employed by Angard but seconded to the Royal Mail. They are required to do any work that their Royal Mail manager requests, though they are officially supervised by an Angard manager. They are not guaranteed any regular hours, and have no fixed place of work (though they will not be required to work outside the UK). They will not be paid for hours they do not work. For this they will be paid the minimum wage: £6.08 an hour (£4.98 if you’re under 21).

In other words, they will do exactly the same job as a Royal Mail employee, but for £2.78 an hour less. They could be sitting around waiting for a telephone call for days on end, to get only a few hours work a week. They can be moved from site to site and job to job at will. If they turn a job down, for any reason, they can be dismissed. Night workers are paid 50p extra an hour.

On 1 October the EU Agency Workers Regulations came into force in the UK. These give agency workers the same rights as permanent employees after 12 weeks. However, by employing the agency workers directly through a subsidiary, the Royal Mail appears to be able to side-step the regulations. The guidance for employers from the government says:

Those who are likely to be outside the scope of the regulations include… individuals working for in-house temporary staffing banks where a company employs its temporary workers directly (and they only work for that same business or service).

All other agency workers have had their contracts cancelled and replaced by Angard contracts. In many cases workers have had to wait weeks to be paid. One Angard worker told me it took over a month for him to get his first pay cheque. He said that the management are virtually impossible to get hold of and that if you ask them a question they fob you off. On several occasions he was given shifts which were cancelled when he turned up for work. The excuse? They were double-booked.

The Royal Mail denies it’s trying to get round the regulations. ‘The company is fully compliant with UK employment law,’ it says, ‘and any suggestion that Angard Staffing Solutions has been set up to, in some way, get round the new Agency Workers Regulations is nonsense.’

Still, Angard staff are not covered by agreements made with the union, and although they have the right to statutory holiday and sick pay, their conditions of employment are, by definition, less secure than their permanent colleagues’. It seems certain that only compliant employees will be kept on for more than 38 weeks. With unemployment on the rise, and jobs ever more scarce, is this the future of work in the UK?

– See more at: http://www.lrb.co.uk/blog/2011/10/31/roy-mayall/the-future-of-work/#sthash.ZCTZcVea.dpuf

The not so jolly postman

December 19, 2010 5 comments

‘Kids love us. We’re like Father Christmas bringing presents to your door’

 

Postal worker Roy Mayall loves his job – the fresh air, the early starts, even the Christmas rush. But this year it’s not quite so much fun. The service is being ‘modernised’, resulting in backlogs and delays. So will your cards get through?

From the Guardian.

Read more here.

Park and Loop

December 18, 2010 5 comments

New delivery methods threaten the integrity of the mail

Restructuring

Royal Mail will be spending £20m on speeding up Christmas mail before the next cold snap arrives. Photograph: Hartshead Services

It hardly needs saying, but Christmas is the busiest time of the year for postal workers. There’s a veritable assault of mail bearing down on us: more so this year than any year, as so many more people are buying on-line these days.

In previous years we took it in our stride. It was hard work, but we enjoyed it. We got on with the job and we got it done, to the best of our ability.

This year, however, things are different. This is due to the introduction of new working methods in a large number of delivery offices around the country. Quite why the Royal Mail decided to undertake a wholesale restructuring of our job just before the Christmas rush is anybody’s guess. It’s only one of a series of increasingly insane decisions we’ve been subjected to this year.

The process is called “revision”. First of all they got rid of our bikes and replaced them with vans: two posties to a van doing two extended rounds between them.

This is called “park & loop”. We park up the van, fill up our trolleys, head off in two different directions, spend 40 minutes or so completing the loop, then come back to the van to drive off to the next parking spot.

Now this would be fair enough if it actually worked, but it doesn’t. Someone somewhere has made a serious error in their calculations. The company has spent millions of pounds buying a brand new fleet of vans, but they are actually too small for the job. We have to carry our trolleys in the back, plus up to twenty-four ten kilo pouches, and then all the packets, both large and small.

And therein lies the problem. There’s not enough room for the packets, and, having dispensed with the dedicated packets delivery rounds which were part of the old method, there are serious backlogs building up in the offices as we struggle to get them out. The backlogs were already there before the Christmas rush started. I suspect that many people around the country won’t be getting their presents this year.

Priorities

Calculations

The next problem lies in the figures they’ve used to calculate the rounds. They took a sample week in June, a notoriously light month, and have extrapolated from that. On that basis they’ve estimated that we have around 26,000 items of mail passing through our office in any one day, when we all know it is more like 42,000.

What this means is that the sorting process takes a lot longer than their calculations allow for. We are allowed one hour to sort the mail into the individual rounds (known as “Internal Preparatory Sorting”) and then another hour to “prep” our frames: that is to slot the letters into the frame, into the sequence they will be taken out in. I never have time to complete this task, which means that most days there are at least six boxes of mail left unsorted under my frame, which are then “prepped” by managers or office staff while I am out on my round. So every day I come in to an already half-full frame of mail left over from the day before.

In this time we are also supposed to have prepped the door-to-door leaflets – usually referred to as “junk mail” by you, the customer – which we take out at the rate of 1/6th a day, and which can amount to anything up to six items per household. We are given six minutes to do this in when it actually takes more like 15 minutes. We are not allowed to leave the junk mail behind, which means that these days junk mail is given precedence over the normal mail, which quite often does get left behind.

That’s the measure of the Royal Mail’s priorities these days.

When the planners first came to the office to discuss the revision they made it quite clear that their aim was to reduce the workforce and therefore the number of man-hours in the office. When the revision was implemented it amounted to eight full time jobs lost. But so huge is the backlog of mail that’s been building up – at one time there were up to 26,000 items of mail, backed into a corner and filling up half of the office – that they’ve had to re-employ the eight full-time employees who had previously taken voluntary redundancy, just to clear it.

They’ve now agreed that the office actually needs five more full-time staff. But, here’s the trick: the new staff will be working on much less favourable contracts than the guys they are replacing.

Which, you might suggest, is the entire purpose of the exercise.

Second Class Post

December 18, 2010 Leave a comment

Christmas chaos in the Royal Mail. New working methods disrupt Christmas deliveries.

Last posting day

The last posting day before Christmas for second class post is the 18th of December. The last posting day for first class post is the 21st of December. Aside from this, did you know that during the last three weeks in December there is actually no difference between the two services? That’s because the normal “quality of service” targets for first class post, ensuring that 93 per cent of first class post is delivered the next day, don’t apply for most of December at all. Some cards and letters bearing first class stamps will still get there the next day but, for this period, the Royal Mail is fully entitled to deliver them the day after or, indeed, the day after that too. Pretty much whenever, in fact. So we might as well all save our money and stick second class stamps on the whole lot. After all, that’s how they’re going to be treated.

I have to say the fact that service targets for first class post don’t apply in December was news to me, despite me having been a postman for many years. But, given the endless stream of nonsense that flows down from our unseen senior management – a management more preoccupied with privatisation and profits than minor things like getting the Christmas post delivered – it certainly doesn’t surprise me.

Our postal system is in chaos and this Christmas it could easily reach breaking point. A combination of demoralised staff, local sorting office closures and the wholesale introduction of new and untried working methods could easily result in millions of items simply not getting delivered by December 24th. And that, I can honestly tell you, breaks my old postie‘s heart.

Being a postman in December used to be a wonderful job. You had to work hard – of course, you did – but as you stomped across the frosty pavements to the sorting office at 5am, steam blowing from your frozen nostrils, there was a real sense of doing something important. Yes, the overtime helped – it was Christmas, after all – but a real Dunkirk spirit set in. Every day huge amounts of mail would come in – up to 10 times the normal amount – and every day we’d get our heads down, our winter boots on and do our very utmost to make sure it was all delivered in time. And, by and large, it was.

This year, however, is going to be very different. It’s not only going to be the last Christmas I do my round by bike (confusingly, we call our rounds “walks”, even when we do them on a bike) but it’s also going to be the last one I do from the local sorting office in our town. Like dozens of others, it’s now due to close which means that next year we’ll all be based in one huge sorting office in the not-particularly-nearby city. Every morning, I’ll have to drive there to get to work and then drive back to this town in a van to deliver the post, before doing both journeys again, this time in reverse. Crazy, huh.

Compared to a bicycle, that certainly doesn’t sound very environmentally friendly, and I’m not sure it would make much economic sense either but for the fact that many of these local sorting offices are on prime, town-centre sites which, even today, are worth a fair amount of money. Back in the 70s, I have a distant memory this used to be called asset-stripping but these days, I’m told, it’s maximising total financial returns. Not sure where delivering the post fits into all this but then I’m not sure our management are either.

Longer walks

Snow

The battle for breakfast time deliveries, was lost long ago. These days, I don’t even start work until 8.40am and usually I’m not out on the road before 10.30am. Which means the lucky ones get their post mid-morning but those at the end of my walk don’t get theirs until mid afternoon. If something needs a signature, the chances of anyone being in at that time are, of course, pretty remote so, all too often, it has to come back with me to the local sorting office to be collected. People have got used to this but I don’t think they’re going to be anything like as understanding when that local sorting office closes and they have to drive to the city to pick up whatever it is.

And it’s going to get worse, thanks to the new working practices that are being rolled out all over the country. They can best be summarised as longer walks, longer hours, fewer full-time jobs, more casual labour.

In particular, you’re going to be seeing far more of something called “park and loop” which sees three or four of the old walks being done by two postmen in a van. We have all the post in the back – letters and packets – which, at predetermined stops, we then unload into those golf-trolley things. We then loop round, delivering the mail before coming back to the parked van and driving on to the next stopping-off point.

That’s the theory, anyway.

Will it work? No it won’t. In fact it is already failing as office after office are building up huge backlogs of undelivered mail. A friend of mind in a Northern office which has recently gone through this so-called “revision” process, told me that one day they had 26,000 undelivered items of mail sitting in the office waiting to be sorted, and it was only by re-employing the half a dozen blokes who had recently taken voluntary redundancy, that they were able to bring the backlog down to manageable levels again. Now there’s only about 5,000 items a day which they are failing to deliver.

The problem is that the management just haven’t thought things through properly. The theory was that we were going to take all the packets out with us. That’s the draw-back with bikes: no room for packets. But the trouble with the new vans is they are too small, so there’s still no room for the packets and, given that they have stopped the dedicated packets delivery-vans as part of the revision, sometimes the packets just aren’t getting delivered at all.

Walk sequencing

Meanwhile they have also introduced a new piece of massively expensive technology called a walk sequencing machine, a wonderful-sounding bit of kit which actually sorts the post in the order the postie is going to deliver them. The only problems are that, to do it properly, the post has to go through the machine three times and that each machine services several offices and potentially hundreds of individual frames. Also it can only sort standard sized letters, not packets. Packets still have to be sorted by hand, the old fashioned way. All of which means everything takes longer and your post gets later and later. Some postmen aren’t finishing till 4 in the afternoon these days. We used to deliver in time for your breakfast. Soon we won’t even be delivering in time for your tea.

This is already having a seriously unpopular knock-on effect during the Festive Season. More and more packets – or Christmas presents as I believe you call them – are going to be delivered at lunchtime or mid-afternoon when people are either at work or out shopping, if they are delivered at all.

Some unlucky people are going to end with more “Sorry You Were Out” cards than Christmas cards and their mood is unlikely to be improved when they traipse off to their local sorting office, where they’ve been picking things up for years, and suddenly discover it’s not there any more. Sorry but that’s the future.

I’d love to be able to come to some more positive conclusion but that’s just about impossible. Royal Mail’s management are more interested in their bonuses than they are with the long-term future of the Royal mail. They have forgotten the basics. Posties are early morning people who like the outdoors and who enjoy getting to know the folk – Granny Smith as we collectively call you – on our walks.

Now, we’re being made to keep office-hours, be stuck in a van for most of the day and won’t meet many people because most of you will be out by the time we eventually get round to delivering.

As for you, our poor, put-upon customers – I have a nasty feeling that wondering whether to stick a first or second class stamp on your Christmas cards could soon be the very least of your postal problems.

Christmas at the Royal Mail

December 13, 2009 2 comments

Dunkirk spirit

Christmas is the most important time of the year for the Royal Mail. It is when the company comes into its own.

It’s not only about the volume of traffic, though this is phenomenal. People are receiving ten, fifteen, or twenty times their usual mail. And it’s not just Christmas cards either. Everyone is trying to sell you something. So there are endless catalogues, brochures, special offers, two-for-the-price-of-one deals.

And then, after this, there are the presents. People may not send as many letters as they used to, but they can sit up all night browsing the internet for gift ideas, paying for them by credit card, and getting them sent by post the next day. Most of this comes through the Royal Mail.

There’s something of the Dunkirk spirit in delivery offices at this time of year. It’s a veritable assault of mail, and postal workers are braced for the force of the attack. There are times when we feel like the last troops defending the beaches as a never ending barrage of letters and cards and magazines and parcels is thrown at us. And then, after that, we are like the little ships evacuating the mail through the channel, on our bikes and in our trolleys, safely delivering the post to your homes.

It’s a great feeling. There’s great camaraderie in the office, great spirit, and a huge sense of achievement when it’s all over; after which we get two days off work – Christmas Day and Boxing Day – before we resume our rounds again.

But – as I say – that’s not all there is to it.

There’s something else, something more subtle, but no less substantial.

Because we are not only delivering the mail. We are delivering goodwill. We are delivering keepsakes and remembrances. We are delivering thoughts of our friends. We are delivering Christmas wishes and New Year greetings from across the country and around the globe. We are more than just posties then. We are the thread that weaves through the fabric of society, binding it together.

“Modernisation”

You see, us posties are being grossly underestimated. You think that all we do is read an address and then stick the letter through the door, but there’s much more to it than that.

These days there’s immense pressure on us. We are carrying more mail than ever, and working at a faster pace. There has been a 30% reduction in staff levels in the last two years and increasing volumes, particularly of parcels. There are more part-time posties and casuals. There are more rounds being done on an ad-hoc basis with no full-time postie being assigned. There’s an ever increasing volume of junk mail being generated by data bases in computers sent to people who moved out years ago, to addresses that no longer exist.

All of this gets lumped under the general name of “modernisation” and when we argue with it we are told that we are like dinosaurs resisting the changes that will save the Royal Mail for the future.

Royal Mail management consultant David Stubbs says that there are three strands to the modernisation programme:

  1. The introduction of walk-sequencing machines and the measurement of rounds.
  2. The reduction and the concentration of mail centres, into larger and fewer centres.
  3. The introduction of more part-time workers and of new shift patterns.

He adds that the model for these changes are the mail companies on the continent. But here’s the problem. The measurement of the rounds is being done by a computer programme called Pegasus which quite often doesn’t get the measurement right. Pegasus actually added about 45 minutes to my round, which already takes more than the allotted 3.5 hours. Walk-sequencing machines will pre-sort the mail into the order of delivery so that the postman will have less preparation to do, but, on average, these multi-million pound machines save about seven minutes on each round, and still don’t always get it right. And if you look to the continent for your model you’ll see that posties over there are losing their jobs, while their rounds are being franchised out to casual workers, thus breaking the bond of trust between a postie and his customers.

Local knowledge

The reason that postal workers are questioning modernisation that it is being driven by the requirement of the corporations to make profits, and not for the benefit of the ordinary customer or postal workers. It is for the people who send out the bills, not the people who receive them or deliver them.

If you want to know how long a round will take, don’t get a computer programme to tell you, ask the postie. The postie will know. If you want to know how best to do the round, whether by bike or on foot or with a trolley or a van, ask the postie. The postie will know. If you want to know who has moved in to number 22, and whether Mr Jones still lives at number 27, ask the postie. The postie will know. A walk-sequencing machine can sort the mail fast and efficiently, but could it find a person’s address without a house number or a postcode? The postie can.

This is what “modernisation” in its current form fails to take into account. There is a wealth of local knowledge in every office, residing in every postman’s head. Why send double-gazing catalogues out to council-owned blocks of flats? If the company had asked the postie he would have told them not to bother. Why keep sending letters to Mr Jones when the postie knows full well he moved out years ago. Some of these mass mail-out companies could save a lot of money (and a lot of trees) if they bothered to consult with the postie first.

Some of this detailed local knowledge could be utilised to make the post more efficient, if only the Royal Mail would learn to trust its own employees.

There’s a joke down at our office. “This job is all about give and take,” we say. “We give, they take.”

We are referring to the fact that the Royal Mail utterly fails to appreciate us.

Christmas is the time of year when the commitment and dedication of postal workers can be seen most clearly. Forget about temporary workers: when it comes to the Christmas post the job wouldn’t get done without the good will of the postal workers who run the system for the rest of the year too. Without overtime the Royal Mail would simply crash. But the Royal Mail can’t impose overtime nor can it restrict it. We work until the job is done, however long that takes. The overtime is given as a good will gesture by the postal worker. It is not a requirement, it is an act of service to our customers.

In the same way the Royal Mail cannot impose modernisation. It has to work with its staff. It has to consult about the best way to go about it. It has to be done in the interests of all the customers, not just the corporations. It has to be done in such a way that it will not damage postal worker’s health or well-being.

Only then will the Royal Mail become a truly modern service..

More from Roy Mayall

Postmen: We bind the nation together

November 27, 2009 Leave a comment

He is probably Britain’s best-known postman and set to achieve greater celebrity. But there is a certain cloak-and-dagger element to our meeting. He agrees to let me come to his home town but all I can tell you is that it is somewhere in the South of England. He is fiftysomething, but won’t be more specific. He has been doing his round for “a number of years”.

Read more here.

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