Higson vs Unite: Royal Mail’s climbdown over orders to managers

Last week I did a piece for Tribune about how Royal Mail was ordering managers to do postmens’ (and womens, thanks Enoch Was Right) work for them during the CWU strike. Royal Mail managers are represented by the union Unite. Now I learn it seems they’ve backtracked.

In response to my questions for last week’s article, Royal Mail emailed a statement saying: “Anyone who is not able to work directly in the operation for whatever reason is not required to do so”. A complete contradiction, it seems to me, of managing director (letters) Mark Higson’s words in his letter, to wit:

“You will recall, I wrote to you back in September, explaining that two days’ support per week would be the minimum expected level. The need to provide a service for customers relying on us means this can no longer be optional .”

What changed? Well, Unite’s Paul Reuter wasn’t happy with the order, as I said in my article. Managers have a flexibility clause in their contracts that means they have to cover for lower grade staff, but Higson’s order went too far for the liking of the union, who asked him to rescind it.

Moreover, Derek Simpson and Tony Woodley wrote to their own members expressing solidarity with the CWU this week. Unite members can’t legally take unofficial strike action – there’s no dispute between them and Royal Mail – but it seems they can refuse to do postpersons’ work after a certain point of flexibility.

It seems Royal Mail have decided they can’t win this one. Managers’ cover could never break the  strike on its own – there aren’t enough of them, 12,000 out of 120,000 – but they could have damaged morale amongst the strikers.

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