Cost-cutting won’t deliver solution to postal problems

As anyone who knows me well will tell you, I’m not a huge fan of trade unions.

For the most part, they leave me angry and frustrated.

In my experience, having covered more than a few industrial disputes in the last 20 years, I find them remote and impotent.

Worse still, their “one-for-all and all-for-one” philosophy creates a haven for the mediocre and the lazy.

Unions are supposed to protect the vulnerable and seek fairness. However, more often than not, they serve to shield the less able and less willing (the mediocre and the shirkers) at the expense of the real hard workers.

Like many people, I have in recent years had cause to have a pop at the Communication Workers’ Union (CWU).

That’s because you’d be hard-pressed to find someone in the ST postcode area who hasn’t had their mail deliveries disrupted by strikes and stoppages.

Indeed, the postal service in the Potteries has been so bad in recent years you’d have been as well keeping a few carrier-pigeons in a coop at the bottom of your garden.

At least the birds are less likely to crap on you.

It’s been a tale of dispute after dispute and, lo and behold, here we are again.

Postal workers at Stoke-on-Trent’s main sorting office walked out indefinitely today as their row with Royal Mail escalated.

There are two separate disputes running concurrently – a national row about pay and job cuts and a very local battle over plans to close the sorting office in Leek Road, Stoke, and transfer operations to Wolverhampton.

And, despite my earlier protestations, the more I learn about Royal Mail’s cutbacks the more I find myself coming down on the side of the strikers with regard to the localised dispute.

People like postal worker Lee Thorley who has been told that his job is being transferred to yam yam country.

So, instead of working 10am to 6pm Monday to Friday, he will be working midday to 8pm Tuesday to Saturday and face a daily 60-mile round trip to work.

As someone who commutes to work I know only to well how much you begrudge the time spent on the road – time which you would rather spend with your family.

But I chose to live some distance away from The Sentinel and I could always move (well, as and when the housing market comes back from the dead).

But Lee Thorley didn’t choose to live 30 miles from his place of employment and I dare say he would rather not uproot his family and move to the Black Country in order to keep his job.

Do Royal Mail bosses care? Do they even consider such trivialities as Lee Thorley’s quality of life in their ruthless pursuit of savings? Of course not.

But you know what my basic problem is with this ‘transfer of operations’?

It just doesn’t make sense. If I post a letter in Sneyd Green to a friend Longton where is the logic in sending that envelope to Wolverhampton to be ‘sorted’ in order that it be sent back to the Potteries?

There isn’t any logic. It’s madness – just another example of the powers-that-be centralising certain aspects of a business to save a few pennies and bugger the consequences.

I understand that, south of the Watford Gap, Stoke-on-Trent may only be known as ‘that place near Alton Towers which used to make pottery’ but I dare say that a city with a population of around 240,000 should be able to sort its own Christmas cards.

What price local knowledge, or are such things simply old-fashioned in the world of big business?
The sad truth is that dear old Royal Mail has been playing catch up for the best part of 15 years.

As a business it has never quite got to grips with the advent of the internet and email.

From their privileged monopoly position, perhaps the management always thought that sales of stamps, postal services and old dears collecting their pension would be enough to sustain a business in the digital age.

How wrong they were.

And it is people like Lee Thorley and those who live in the ST postcode area who are now paying the price for that naiveté.

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