Royal Mail strikes continue after ‘retaliatory’ threat to cut 10,000 jobs, as CWU calls for inquiry

CWU general secretary Dave Ward has called for an inquiry into the running of Royal Mail, after the firm posted a loss of £219 million in the first half of the year.

More than 110,000 postal workers are striking for the seventh time today, in a dispute over pay and conditions which is becoming increasingly bitter.

This is the first day of industrial action since Royal Mail announced that it intends to cut up to 10,000 jobs in the next year, in what has been described as a “calculated” move and a “retaliation” to strike action.

The Communication Workers Union (CWU) criticised Royal Mail CEO Simon Thompson after he failed to attend a meeting on Monday (17 October), while a Labour MP accused Thompson of “playing politics with people’s livelihoods,” over the threatened job cuts.

More than 50 Labour MPs wrote to Thompson urging him to enter discussions with the union, while CWU general secretary Dave Ward has called for an inquiry into the running of Royal Mail, after the firm posted a loss of £219 million in the first half of the year.

Royal Mail to cut 10K jobs by August next year

Thompson has been criticised for failing to attend a scheduled meeting which aimed to re-establish a positive dialogue between the company and union representatives, according to the CWU.

Last week, Royal Mail announced that it would likely cut up to 10,000 jobs by the end of August next year, which it said could increase if strike action continued.

Thompson, who earns more than £750,000 per year and received a bonus of £140,000 earlier this year, said last week that he regretted the announcement of job losses, while Ward described his behaviour as “hostile and bizarre”.

He said: “Instead of sitting down and sorting out his problems like an adult, Simon Thompson chose to be a vanishing act instead. When someone like him earns £62,750 a month and can give himself six-figure bonuses, it is a disgrace that he sees it fit to disrespect our members in such a way.”

The firm posted profits of £758 million last year and paid out £400 million to shareholders, but its most recent results show a loss of £219 million for the six months to June this year, which the company has partially attributed to the impact of strike action.

The dispute started earlier this year after workers voted overwhelmingly in favour of industrial action due to the imposition of a below-inflation pay offer along with broader concerns about the direction of the company.

Since then, Royal Mail served legal notice that it would withdraw from a number of existing agreements around working conditions.

Ward has questioned Royal Mail’s claims that the losses have been caused by strike action, instead attributing them to “gross mismanagement and a failed business agenda”. He accused the firm of trying to shift to a gig economy courier-style business model, which would greatly reduce workers’ rights.

He said: “What the company should be doing is abandoning its asset-stripping strategy and building the future based on utilising the competitive edge it already has in its deliveries to 32 million addresses across the country.”

The union leader has called for a government inquiry into the running of Royal Mail, and for the company’s board to be sacked.

He told Sky News last week: “We know as a fact that they made £758m last year, when we had an agreement on change. And that agreement was instrumental in bringing the company through the pandemic. Postal workers did a fantastic job and we changed at the same time and they made money.

“But, in a matter of three or four months, they’re now saying that they’re losing a million pounds a day. Well, if that’s true, the people who are running this business should be sacked for gross mismanagement.”

Ian Lavery, MP for Wansbeck.
Ian Lavery, MP for Wansbeck.
Ian Lavery, MP for Wansbeck.

Labour MPs support striking workers

Last week, more than 50 Labour MPs from across the party added their signatures to a letter in support of the striking workers from Ian Lavery, chair of the CWU parliamentary group, to Thompson.

Lavery labelled the decision to cut up to 10,000 jobs a “disgraceful attack,” and said it is “shameful that this cost-of-living crisis has left them struggling to pay their bills.”

He wrote: “Whilst shareholders have received millions from Royal Mail, postal workers are told that there is nothing left for a significant pay-rise to cope with rising inflation.”

Kate Osborne MP, a former Royal Mail employee, also wrote to Thompson, accusing the CEO of “playing politics with people’s livelihoods,” after senior figures at Royal Mail had “openly stated that they are retaliating to CWU members taking strike action” in announcing the plan to cut up to 10,000 jobs.

“I agree with the CWU that your recent announcement is the result of gross mismanagement and a failed business agenda of ending daily deliveries, a wholesale levelling-down of the terms, pay and conditions of postal workers, and turning Royal Mail into a gig-economy style parcel courier.”

She urged Thompson to meet with the CWU for a “meaningful discussion” about job losses and the ongoing dispute.

Ward said: “This union is grateful to every MP who have put their names on this letter.

“The current treatment of postal workers in this country is nothing short of a disgrace, and every highlighting of the injustices they face takes them one step further to gaining justice.”

A Royal Mail spokesperson said: "On Friday, 14 October, we announced losses of £219 million in the first half of the year. This once again demonstrates the urgent need for Royal Mail to change. Further strike action would materially increase our losses for the full year and may necessitate further operational restructuring and job losses.

"Four weeks have passed since we invited the CWU to enter talks with Acas to resolve the change and pay dispute. We once again urge the CWU to join us in Acas talks. This is the only way to reach a resolution and secure Royal Mail’s future and jobs for our people.

"We apologise to our customers for the inconvenience the CWU’s continued strike action will cause. We are doing all we can to minimise delays and keep people, businesses and the country connected."