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Employment

Royal Mail strikes: When are postal workers going on strike over Christmas and why?

Royal Mail workers are going on strike over the Christmas period to protest low pay and Uberisation of the business. Here’s what that means for them and for you

Over 100,000 postal workers, represented by the Communication Workers Union (CWU), are engaged in an industrial dispute with Royal Mail over pay – the first of its kind in almost a decade. 

The industrial dispute has been running for seven months, with multiple different offers and employment tabled, and later withdrawn. The dispute has turned particularly aggressive with both sides accusing the other of manipulating the facts. 

Here’s what you need to know about the upcoming strikes, why it’s happening, and the most recent negotiations

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When are Royal Mail workers on strike?

Royal Mail staff are set to strike on at least 10 dates in the run up to Christmas, targeting dates that are usually the most busy for online shopping deliveries. This year, Black Friday falls on November 25, with businesses offering deals and cut prices to tempt shoppers ahead of Christmas. 

Just two days later is Cyber Monday, on November 28, a further day of online deals aimed to entice those who missed out, or refrained, in the previous sale. The CWU has planned its strike days around these key dates to cause the most disruption possible, and highlight how central posties are to the digital shopping economy. 

Here is the full list of dates:

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Thursday November 24

Friday November 25 (Black Friday)

Wednesday November 30

Thursday December 1

Friday December 9 

Sunday December 11 

Wednesday December 14 

Thursday December 15 

Friday December 23 

Saturday December 24 (Christmas Eve)

What’s the latest in the dispute?

Days after the CWU announced its biggest schedule of strike dates yet, Royal Mail returned to negotiations by tabling what it has called its “best and final offer” in a bid to avoid the Christmas strikes. 

The company has offered a 9 per cent pay rise over 18 months, and promises no compulsory redundancies for the next four months (until the end of March 2023), and a bigger voluntary redundancy package. 

“Royal Mail has urged the CWU to accept the offer and call off planned strike action. Further deterioration in the company’s financial position caused by industrial action will rapidly make the pay offer unaffordable and it may need to be withdrawn,” said a spokesperson. 

The CWU has rejected the offer and is continuing with the November and December strike dates. A spokesperson said the offer meant that thousands of compulsory redundancies would be inevitable, and that the pay increase actually amounts to “a wholly inadequate, non-backdated 3.5 per cent.”

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The union also says that the deal tabled by Royal Mail demands the CWU “be removed from the workplace” and would no longer be able to support its members in an employment tribunal. It would also entail cuts to sick pay, the removal of additional pay for employees working on sundays, and introduce “technology that will monitor postal workers every minute of the day”.

“These proposals spell the end of Royal Mail as we know it, and its degradation from a national institution into an unreliable, Uber-style gig economy company,” said CWU boss Dave Ward. 

“Make no mistake about it: British postal workers are facing an Armageddon moment. We urge every member of the public to stand with their postie, and back them like never before.”

Why are posties on strike?

“Enough is enough,” Kevin Simpson, a Royal Mail postal officer from Southend-on-Sea told the Big Issue at the start of the dispute.

“We were putting ourselves at risk throughout the pandemic and I think it’s quite clear that, without working people, this country would come to a stand still,” he told The Big Issue. “We actually need to be recognised for the work that we’re doing.”

After being hailed as key workers during the pandemic, postal workers are feeling more undervalued than ever. While the company is focused on improving productivity to cut costs – it’s losing a million pounds a day – for those putting the mail through letterboxes, the workload is simply too high. 

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“You have post men and women who you can look in the eye and see that they are not only physically but mentally exhausted,” described Simpson. 

“They’re fed up with coming into work knowing damn fine that they would not be able to complete their jobs, despite caring about delivering a high quality service.”

While CEO Simon Thompson earned £596,000 in 2021 – 26 times the average wage of £11.70 an hour for a frontline Royal Mail worker – there have been multiple reports of postal workers relying on food banks to survive.

What does the union mean by the Uberisation of Royal Mail?

Ward has said: “Posties are in the fight of their lives against the Uberisation of Royal Mail and the destruction of their conditions.”

Where Royal Mail claims to offer “the best terms and conditions in the industry”, union members accuse bosses of a “race to the bottom” to erode workers’ rights by moving to a gig economy-style parcel courier model, reliant on casual labour;

In theory, the gig economy can allow more freedom for both the company and the worker –  a person only has to work when they like – but equally, an employer can choose to hand out work only when they deem necessary.

In a bid to modernise its service, Royal Mail is reviewing a number of employment policies which, it told The Guardian, “are currently being used by the CWU to frustrate transformation”.

Ward has accused Royal Mail of trying to “impose new working conditions without discussion” on posties, which would make them less like employees, and more like Uber drivers who work on a casual basis. 

What is Royal Mail saying?

Royal Mail turned a £416 million profit last year domestically, with the growth in parcels during the pandemic giving the company a “short-term lifeline”, a spokesperson said. 

However, the company announced an operating loss of £92m in the first quarter of 2022, and says it is desperate to make cost savings and cannot rule out job cuts if CWU members continue to undertake industrial action.

“The negative commercial impact of any strike action will only make pay rises less affordable and could put jobs at risk,” said a Royal Mail spokesperson. “The CWU has a responsibility to recognise the reality of the situation Royal Mail faces as a business, and to engage urgently on the changes required.”

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