Tuesday. I’m just about to set off for work when the phone rings. It’s someone from Royal Mail — they want me to turn up at the delivery office at 5.00 tomorrow morning to “have a chat and a look around”. Being as yet unaware of Royal Mailspeak, I presume I have an interview.
Wednesday. Arrive at the delivery office. Everything looks hectic. Managers in flash shirts and ties hold important-looking mobile phone conversations. Radio One blares out across the floor whilst endless trolleys of mail are transported into the office.
Eventually I find the line manager I am looking for — short, stocky with a grin that says “look at me, I’m dynamic”. He shakes my hand and introduces himself “Can you do the second today?” he asks me. I don’t understand what he’s on about so I give him a nervous looking grin — it was obviously a joke about doing a second delivery. He takes me over to Andy — a young postie — and informs me that I’ll be with him for a week. “See how you get on” he tells me. Hang on, have I just got a job? Part of me feels elated, the other half terrified. I haven’t handed in my notice at work — I’ll be working over seventy hours this week!
Tuesday. The long hours and the early mornings are killing me — I’m not doing the second delivery, however just the first, and my other job means that I’m working from 5am to 10.30pm with only five hours of sleep in between. I’m pretty certain that I’ll die of exhaustion by the end of the week.
Ask Andy about the union — everyone is a member, but it isn’t seen as anything other than a ‘last resort’ for when the workers are particularly peeved off. The union organisation at the workplace is poor — only one union rep for five different divisions and around two hundred and fifty members! Arrange with him to go and see the union rep tomorrow.
Wednesday. The union rep is not the most approachable person I’ve ever met. “Got a contract?” she asks me in an impatient and routine manner in response to my enquiry about joining. I told her that I didn’t. She went over and fetched my line manager, who, looking rather worried, asked if I had a problem. Panicking, I replied that I was simply enquiring about union membership as someone had told me to join. I was informed that as a ‘casual’ I was not entitled to be a member of a union.
Saturday. The other privileges of being a casual are soon becoming apparent — the significantly lighter pay packet, the lack of uniform and the demand to be more “flexible”. Basically this means that unlike permanent staff, casuals do not have a ‘set’ allocated walk (delivery round). You turn up each morning not knowing which walk you will be put on, and are expected to complete it in the same time as those who have been on the same walk for five years! Today I am asked to do a walk in a completely different division. Casuals do not sign-in and sign-out, so it is left up to you to make sure that you are being paid the correct number of hours. Casuals are also a useful way of cutting down on full-timers’ pay. All that management need to do is ‘halve’ a walk with you and a full timer (many of whom are grateful for the help) and hey presto, the amount of wages paid for that walk is 25% less!
Thursday. It’s a busy morning and tempers are rising. Workers scream at the line manager to resign. Andy is getting pissed off. “Oi! I asked for some elastic bands ten minutes ago and I still haven’t got any!” he shouts at Mr Dynamic. “That’s Management promises for you!” shouts a wag.
The second delivery is particularly heavy today. The workers become more stroppy. There are a few half-hearted calls to get the union in, but nothing comes of it.
Monday. A ‘team briefing’ is called by the line manager. Technically casuals do not attend them but as they are on the floor, I poke my head around the corner and listen in. Mr Dynamic runs through a list of targets that haven’t been met on our division and how much it is costing the company. There is no right of reply but this does not stop the workers screaming abuse at him. “Resign!“ is the most popular call. He announces a meeting organised by Royal Mail bigwigs to discuss future targets and improvements. Nobody intends to attend. On the noticeboard is a poster for the meeting — “ A chance for you to air your views and concerns “ it states: “ ... and have them rejected” someone has scribbled underneath.
Thursday. Engage in conversation with a postie on the bus. He tells me that he had voted Labour because they had pledged not to privatise the post office — the illusions that he has in Blair are not particularly strong. Much is spoken about the ‘good old days’ when deliveries were lighter and walks shorter. There is a tendency to blame this on ‘good gaffers’ and ‘bad gaffers’ rather than Royal Mail as a whole. There does not seem to be too much resentment of casuals, and most full timers are surprised to learn that the union is not recruiting them. Though Royal Mail cannot get away with it now, due to the strength of the union, casualisation is the long term aim. Already there is an alarming ratio of part-timers to full-timers. Despite the air of demoralisation with the government, there seems to be some willingness for a fightback against management and the new work methods. All it needs is some leadership...