The Royal Mail Attendance Procedure

“Stage 3”: Illustration by Frank Stamp

At the Royal Mail you are sometimes made to come into work even when you are sick or injured.

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.

Junk mail – the facts

A Panorama programme on postal junk was compelling, but didn’t mention that the market is skewed against Royal Mail

Junk mail. We all hate it don’t we?

Postal workers probably hate it more than anyone else, as we see more of it than anyone else. You only have a few items a week to deal with, we have hundreds of items a day. Sometimes we have as many as six separate items per household to load into our frames. That could be well in excess of 3,000 items a week. You can’t imagine how tedious this is.

And whereas in the past we were paid separately for it, as a supplement to our wages (which compensated us for it somewhat) these days it is part of our workload; and whereas the general estimate for the number of houses we cover on a daily basis is about 85%, for junk mail it is 100%, meaning it takes longer to deliver than ordinary mail.

Now a Panorama programme has been aired all about junk mail. It seems as if the Royal Mail is addicted to it – at least if you believe Richard Hooper, author of the Hooper report into the future of our postal services.

As he said in the programme: “There is absolutely no question that advertising mail, which the critics describe as junk mail, is central to the viability of the Royal Mail in the 21st century.” As proof of this he gave us some fairly compelling figures: about a quarter of the total letters market, of around £5.4bn, is advertising mail. Or as Tom Heap, the reporter, summarised it: “On the face of it, it seems the best way of ensuring the survival of our beloved postal system is to sign up to as much junk mail as you possibly can.”

Unfortunately, as the programme also pointed out, there are some pretty serious consequences to this, not least in the cost of disposing of the stuff once it comes through our doors, and – almost immediately – is chucked into the bin. Millions of pounds a year is spent by councils around the country, either in recycling the material, or in shovelling it into landfill sites.

It seems we are stuck with junk mail. Or are we?

The problem is that we were not given all the facts. There are a number of issues that Hooper – the acknowledged expert in the field – omitted to inform you about.

Central to this is something known as downstream access (DSA). This is the means by which rival companies are allowed access to the Royal Mail’s delivery network, at a loss to the Royal Mail. According to Royal Mail’s chief executive Moya Greene in December last year, this is in the region of 2.5p for every item of DSA mail we deliver. Some price changes have since been introduced by the regulator and the extent of subsidy and loss since the changes is as yet unclear [see footnote].

Yes, that’s right: we deliver our own rivals’ mail for them, and then we take a loss on it. By law. Or, to put it another way: we postal workers, and you members of the public, are made to pay so that rival companies to the Royal Mail can make a nice profit. This is what Hooper refers to as “modernisation”. It is the real drain on the Royal Mail’s revenues, and the reason why it is now so dependent on junk mail to survive. Sometimes we are made to deliver our own competitors’ junk mail.

It is achieved through a process known as headroom. What this means is that the price the Royal Mail is allowed to charge for bulk mail delivery – the bills and statements sent out by banks and utility companies, which is the prime source of all revenue in the letters market – always has to allow headroom for its rivals to make a profit.

Without this artificial skewing of the market – in the name of the so-called “free market” – the company would not be anywhere near as dependent on junk mail for its future survival.

Actually, the Panorama programme was effectively two stories in one. Only the first part was about junk mail, the second part was about scam mail. What the programme failed to come up with was a solution to this particular problem, but I can provide that: allow postal workers to identify scam mail and to report it, and then allow the Royal Mail the legal means to stop it at its source.

There’s one old lady on my round who has been receiving scam mail. Day after day she gets a pile of letters from someone who is described on the envelope as “the world’s most trusted psychic”. The envelopes are always the same, but the return addresses are from all over the world. Sometimes I’m delivering 10 or 15 of these letters a day. I reported it to my manager and asked if we could stop delivering them, but he told me we couldn’t. It is paid-for mail and we are obliged to deliver it.

This is a perfect example of what I have been suggesting over and over again: the company should learn to trust its own workers. Because unlike the high-tech machines which are being introduced in the much heralded modernisation programme, us postal workers actually know our customers. We can tell the difference between scam mail and real mail. We know who is vulnerable and who is not, and we can alert our managers when a vulnerable person is being targeted.

I’m certain that every postal worker would recognise this material. If there was a system by which we could report it, and a legal means of stopping it, we could get rid of it overnight.

• This footnote was appended on 7 July 2011. TNT contacted the Guardian after publication of the piece to say the reference to the DSA agreement is not applicable in the context mentioned. “In fact there has been a 22 percent price increase in charges by Royal Mail this year alone which renders this argument obsolete”, a company representative said.

From the Guardian Comment is free

Read more here

Royal Mail is not delivering

‘Millions more have been spent on a fleet of new vans to replace the bikes the Royal Mail intends to scrap.’ Photograph: Christopher Thomond for the Guardian

As profits dive, it’s clear this management isn’t modernising, it’s running the company into the ground – but why?

 

Royal Mail’s profits fell from £180m in 2009 to £39m in 2010, a drop of around 78%. That sounds pretty disastrous, and is one of the reasons given for the impending privatisation of the company.

However, when you start to look more closely at the figures you begin to realise that all is not what it seems. For a start, the company did still make a profit, which is unique among public services. We don’t expect the police to make a profit, or the fire service or the NHS, do we? And I suspect that most of the British public aren’t at all worried if the Royal Mail makes a profit or not, as long as they get their letters delivered on time.

Historically the Royal Mail’s profits were used to subsidise the Post Office which is also an important public service. All of that will change, of course, when the Royal Mail is privatised and the link between the Royal Mail and the Post Office is broken. Once the Royal Mail is privatised, the Post Office will have to go its own way, and don’t be at all surprised when more and more rural post offices start to close, and the post office counter service becomes a small adjunct of Tesco, squeezed between the deli, the electrical counter and the pharmacy.

This shows you the mechanism by which the privatisation agenda operates. It splits a unified service into its constituent parts, hiving off the profitable bits, while keeping the unprofitable bits in the public domain. This is in effect a form of public subsidy. That which can make a profit is given over to the spivs and profiteers of the private sector, while the rest of us carry the can for the bits of the economy that can’t make a profit, thus threatening not only the particular services involved, but also the cohesion and unity of society as a whole.

Many blame the breakdown in Royal Mail profits on the incursion of new technology into the communications market. Or, as the Daily Mirror put it: “Royal Mail profits smashed by competition and Facebook.

This is simply not true. Most of the letters that people sent are still being sent. We might send birthday greetings to people we don’t know very well via Facebook, but how many of you have replaced the Christmas card list with a Facebook list in the last few years? Very few, I would suggest; none but the very young.

When you look at the real reason why profits are down it has virtually nothing to do with Facebook. It has everything to do with the Royal Mail spending vast amounts of money on a so-called modernisationprogramme that simply doesn’t work. £400m was spent on new machinery that actually slows down delivery.

We have two mail deliveries these days, instead of one. One is first thing in the morning, the way it used to be. The second is at about 9.20am in our office, which means full-time workers are now forced to take a break to wait for the lorry. So how is this “modernisation” exactly? By what process is it decided that a new machine which is slower than an old machine is actually more modern, just because you bought it more recently, or that having workers sitting around eating sandwiches is more efficient than having them delivering mail?

Millions more have been spent on a fleet of new vans to replace the bikes the Royal Mail intends to scrap. How crazy is that? To replace the world’s most energy-efficient machine, bar none with the polluting, inefficient internal combustion engine dependent on oil from the war-torn Middle East. To replace a tried and tested method of delivery in use for over 100 years, with an untried and untested method, that, everywhere it has been brought in, has been disastrous, as I’m sure people in a number of towns will testify.

Something very strange is happening here. It takes a radical redefinition of the English language to describe any of this as “modernisation”.

Also we have brand new uniforms. Who on Earth thought of that? Every single postal worker in the UK is being issued with a brand new set of clothes. New shirts, new trousers, new jackets, new caps, new waterproofs. And how much, exactly, did this cost, the refitting of an entire workforce? In this time of austerity and cutbacks, it seems, the Royal Mail judges fashion sense a more important issue than getting the mail delivered on time.

Finally, it is closing down hundreds of local delivery offices all over the country and relocating them to major city centre sites.

All of this is being done in the name of savings. It will cost less to maintain a single centralised office than a number of smaller offices. That’s the theory at least. But is it actually true? I’ve had my calculator out again and I’ve been working it out.

There are 50 workers each in the two offices in our area that are due to close – 100 altogether. It will take about half an hour each way to drive to and from the city. All of this has to be done in work time of course. We’re not counting the journeys each postal worker has to make to get to work and back. So that’s an hour of Royal Mail time spent getting us to and from the start of our rounds. We earn £8.86 an hour, so it will cost the company £886 a day, which is £5,316 a week, or £276,432 a year. Knock off days off and holidays, and the figure still comes in at around £250,000 a year. That’s a quarter of a million pounds spent on just getting the workforce to the start of the round every day.

How is that a “saving” exactly?

What kind of accountant adds a quarter of a million pounds to your wages bill and then describes it as a saving?

This is not to speak of the extra pollution of having hundreds of vans spluttering about during the rush hour or the cost in maintenance, petrol, tax and insurance, of running a fleet of vans. It’s not to speak of the traffic chaos in the city or parking problems around the new joint delivery office. It’s not to speak of the inconvenience for customers of having to travel eight miles to pick up their undelivered mail. According to the Royal Mail’s own figures this will be in the region of 100 a day in each of the two offices. I will leave it up to you to work out the figures on that.

All of this can only lead to one of two conclusions: either Royal Mail management is grossly incompetent, or it is running down the company on purpose, for some end that the rest of us have yet to be informed about.

Read more here.

Park and Loop

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.

The Unsorting Office

The end of bikes?

It’s been a bad few weeks at our delivery office. First of all Vince Cable announced that the Royal Mail was going to be privatised. Then, at one of our weekly ‘Work Time Listening and Learning’ meetings, the line manager announced that our delivery office is going to close.

From the LRB blog.

Read more here.

Natural Monopoly

Ramses II

The usual excuse that is reeled out every time anyone brings up the idea of privatisation is the huge £10 billion pension deficit which the company has run up in the last 20 years or so. But no private sector company will take this on. So in order to create an incentive to the private sector, the government will have to agree to fund it. Whether the Royal Mail is in the public sector or the private sector, the pensions deficit will remain a public liability.

From the LRB blog.

Read the rest of the article here.

You Can Take the Time from Your Break

That’s the Royal Mail for you: cheapskate and penny pinching on every level. The company we work for can’t even afford to allow us to take a little time to ask some of the questions and to get some of the answers that will help us to make an informed decision about our future.

From the London Review of Books.

Read more here.

Listen to Dear Granny Smith on BBC iPlayer

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00pcdpk/Book_of_the_Week_Dear_Granny_Smith_Episode_1/

Dear Granny Smith: A letter from your postman written by Roy Mayall and delivered by Philip Jackson; a heartfelt musing on the past, present and future role of one of the oldest British institutions, the Postie.

Episode 1

Why postmen used to have the best job in the world, and why it’s heading towards becoming the worst.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00pcdpk/Book_of_the_Week_Dear_Granny_Smith_Episode_1/

Christmas at the Royal Mail

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

Team Talk

Posties have to be given instructions on how to ride a bike.

Tuesday is a good day.

This is because Sunday is everybody’s day off. On Sunday the sorting machines in the metropolitan sorting offices are silent. No one is working. Nothing passes through the Royal Mail on a Sunday, not in Birmingham, not in Glasgow, not in Liverpool. Everything is quiet. Everything comes to a stop.

This takes two days to filter through to the delivery office. Monday is a normal day. Wednesday is a heavy day. On Wednesday we are catching up on all the mail that didn’t get delivered on Tuesday. But Tuesday is a good day. Hardly anything gets delivered on a Tuesday.

This is just in the nature of the mail business, the way it’s always been. One day maybe, when the Royal Mail is finally sold off to the Lithuanian National Postal service and all of the old rules no longer apply, then they will run the sorting machines on a Sunday too, and Tuesday will be just like any other day. But, meanwhile, Tuesday is a good day.

You usually finish early on a Tuesday.

On the other hand Tuesday is also the day when we have our Team Talk meetings.

“Team Talk” is a euphemism.

There is no team, and no one talks, except management, that is, and then it is less in the nature of a talk, more in the nature of a lecture. We get told what to do.

We all go in the recreation room – what used to be the recreation room when there was still time for recreation (it’s only ever used for Team Talks these days) – and the Manager reads out from a prepared paper sent down from head office, the latest directives about safety or security or whatever. We get news about what’s happening in other offices. We get the latest figures: how many hours we went over last week, how many hours we are expected to manage with this week. Profit and loss. The weight of mail passing through (it’s always down). Any new initiatives that are being considered; new technology and the like.

It’s boring. People sit round polishing their nails waiting for it to be over. It’s just so much wasted time since nothing we say at these meetings will be heard in any case. We’re not important enough in the scheme of things to be heard. No one listens, no one cares what we think, so no one talks.

It feels like we’re back at school again, at school assembly, the headmaster delivering some pompous lecture on the nature of duty. That’s all it is. Propaganda.

Really it’s just to fill up the time because the management hate to see us getting away with anything.

Tuesday is a good day. Team Talk is their way of spoiling it for us.

There are one or two subjects which come up again and again.

Is he wearing a helmet?

Bicycle helmets is one of them.

It’s a stock subject. Whenever they can’t think of anything else to say, they talk about helmets.

You see, no one wants to wear them. The Royal Mail insists that we do.

To wear or not to wear, that is the question.

Mostly we choose not to.

Generally management are too busy to notice or even to care.

This may sound petty. Indeed it is petty. But how else are we to show that we are still human beings and not just cogs in a wheel? How else are we to show that we are quite capable of making our own decisions?

Actually there are very good reasons why most of us choose not to wear bicycle helmets. It’s not only a symbolic matter. We are only required to wear them when we are riding a bike. Most of the time we are not riding a bike. We are scooting the bike or pushing the bike. The helmet is uncomfortable, too hot in summer, too cold in winter, it’s better to take it off. But then, where to you put it? Where is it supposed to go? We are already full up with mail. We have mail in our tray and mail in our panniers and mail in a bag over our shoulder, so where, now, is the helmet supposed to go? So mostly we leave the helmet in the office.

Management know this of course and occasionally we get lectured about it in Team Talks.

Someone in some office in Birmingham went out without his helmet once, and he came off his bike, over the handlebars and – you know what? – he cracked his head on the pavement and he died.

Therefore bicycle helmets are a requirement.

Even the union agree. Health and safety is one of the issues that the union can hold management to account over. Let’s face it, they have very little power otherwise. But no one can argue with health and safety. So the union have debated with the management about the need for a safe environment at work and both of them have agreed, everyone should wear a bicycle helmet for safety reasons. It’s mandatory.

So every so often we get the lecture, and every so often there is a crack down and every so often we have to go out wearing our helmets so we are forced to bump about on our round with this spare bit of kit getting in the way, rattling about in our bag or in the panniers or being left at a drop-off point so we have to go back and recover it later. And, then, after a while, management forget about it again and we all go back to normal.

But, you think, if this is really to do with health and safety, why can’t I choose?

Surely I am responsible for my own health and safety?

And if they say, “well no, not at work you are not, since management are liable for any accidents that might occur during your hours of employment,” then why don’t they just make us sign a waiver instead?

“I agree that if I fall off my bike and crack my head when not wearing a helmet, it’s my fault not yours.”

That would do it.

The other thing we’re often lectured about is how to ride our bikes.

We are not supposed to ride our bikes on pavements, to scoot, or to hold mail in one hand while guiding the bike with the other. We are not supposed to look at mail while riding our bikes. We are not supposed to bump on or off pavements. We are not supposed to carry too much weight. We are not supposed to lose sight of our bike at any point. If we park the bike to do a “loop” (up one side of the road and down the other) we must keep an eye on the bike at all times.

Often, as they’re giving us this lecture on how to ride a bike, I think, “They’ll be issuing instructions on how to walk next.”

The joke here is that if we actually did the job as we are supposed to, following all of these guidelines, then it would probably take about twice as long, and then we’d be in trouble for “deliberate withholding of mail”, a sack-able offence.

In other words, they issue instructions knowing that – in order to do the job – you are going to have to ignore them.

Such is the logic of work in the 21st century.

Guidance notes:

Walking while delivering.

1) When walking please use “feet”. Other parts of the body are not suitable for this activity.

2) Place feet firmly on the ground, preferably both pointing in the same direction.

3) Raise one foot, using leg, and with a forward motion, place it on the ground ahead of you.

4) Repeat procedure using other foot.

5) Once feet have been raised and lowered successively in a forward-moving motion a number of times, this is known as “walking”, and is the official Royal Mail recommended means of propulsion when not cycling.

6). DO NOT hop, skip, run or jump.DO NOT do backwards somersaults or scissor-kicks. DO NOT do John Cleese inspired “silly-walks”. Use only official Royal Mail forward-moving one-foot-before-the-other walking-motion. All employees using “unorthodox” walking-methods will be severely reprimanded.

7) DO NOT walk, fart and read letters at the same time as this may cause permanent, irreparable confusion. Farting is permissible only when reading has stopped.

8) It is recommended that you keep all “thinking” to a minimum as this has been known to tire the body and depress the spirits. If you cannot refrain from “thinking” please think official Royal Mail recommended “happy thoughts” available from the “happy thoughts” dispenser next to the coffee machine.

9) DO NOT step off cliffs, walls or high buildings, as this will cause a “falling” sensation, quickly followed by a “crunching” sensation as legs and other bodily extremities are concertinaed into easily removable parts. Falling off cliffs and high buildings is not to be mistaken for “flying”, a wholly different concept altogether.

10) “Feet” are usually found on the end of legs, just below ankles. If foot is found in or around other parts of body (ie, in mouth) please see a manager immediately for corrective therapy.

11) Please keep “feet” in good repair at all times, well-oiled, and free from toe-clag. They must be appropriately encased in “shoes” or “boots”. Accidents caused by inappropriately encased or ill-maintained feet are not Royal Mail’s responsibility.

A. Manager

 

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