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Industry focus: problems in the postal service

Tue, 21/06/2011 - 16:59

Len, a postie from the South Coast writes about the effect of ‘modernisation’ in the Royal Mail, which looks bad for workers’ health and safety and bad for the service - all run by what a computer deems ‘optimal’.

A programme of revisions has been divided into three phases. In our medium sized delivery office we are now in week five of our revision using the “new delivery methods” (NDM).

These new delivery methods are high capacity trolleys (HCTs) with one postie pushing up to 105 KGs, and shared vans (2 posties in a van taking all the mail with them and using golf type and sized trolleys to deliver on foot in a loop from the back of a van). All bikes will be scrapped - even if they are more efficient, cost effective or better for the health of the workers.

The revisions are based on computer programs used to ‘optimise production’. The “Indoor Work Tool” works out how much work you can achieve indoors on any given day. It is primarily based on traffic figures which management get by using what is called a ‘model week’. Management then base work for the rest of the year on that week. Obviously, a light week is often chosen.

This means that every second of your time indoors is worked out but takes no account of any problems that might happen during a working day. Things like having to find and collect your own mail before sorting, going to the toilet, badly addressed mail, return to sender mail that has to be marked up and returned, late mail because of weather or broken down wagons and many other problems that happen in a normal working day. This means they can (and do) cut hours from the office and we know nothing about it. We have not as a Union agreed to this - and yet we lose thousands of jobs!

The outdoor element is done with Pegasus Georoute to plan walks in much the same way. A model week is used again (often a light one) and the program tracks a walk (going at about 6km an hour), calculating how many drop points you can deliver to in the given time, how many face-to-face meetings you have with the public for oversized packets and how often you sign for letters and packets. This has three terrain settings that are used to judge garden size and other relevant information that increase or decrease the amount of calls a postie can make. So again settings that allow more calls mean more hours lost from the office.

As we all know, at the sharp end, “optimising production” is about culling our jobs. In our office they ran these tools and came back with a cut of over a 30 jobs for the workforce of around 110. Since we had no choice but to work with these tools as ordered by HQ, our rep began feeding the programs information that resulted in a more realistic level of work. Yet we still ended up with seven temp workers being given redundancy notices even though we always needed those workers in the past.

When bikes have been used instead of high capacity trolleys, or when only one postie was available for the shared vans, the outdoor element has nearly worked. Yet we’ll no longer be able to use bikes under the new programme! Aside from the astronomical costs involved in the NDM and the overcomplication of a relatively simple job, if Royal Mail is ever flogged off the first thing a private company will do is put many posties back on bikes. The impact of these NDM duties will have major health issues in the coming years with many leg and back joints suffering strain and permanent damage.

I believe there is a place for NDM. Say in the winter, if a Postie has to cycle for 3 or 4 miles, then of course it would be safer and more effective to have a couple of posties working from a van. Though we have had them for years, HCTs have never been used properly by Royal Mail.

In the past when we had large loads, say over Christmas, we were kept on bikes. Instead we should be able to look at the workload and decide what would be best for us to deliver, be it HCT or bike. We could make those decisions if allowed and effectively serve our customers and owners, the public. If we could just get rid of the parasites that make a fortune off our backs, the idiots who screw up, put their foot down and say you will do as you’re told. That is how it is going to be instead of being smart and “flexible”, a term they love so much to beat us with.

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