Friday, 12 December 2008

Post office versus the unions.

There was a section on Thursday night's BBC News at Ten that stated that Communication Workers Union officials are complaining that their workers in the post office are being forced to walk their rounds at four miles an hour.

Now, believe me, four miles an hour is quite fast. I have walked 14,000 miles over the last ten years, and I would guess that only a hundred of those have been at that sort of pace. It is very hard speed to maintain, and would be harder still with a bag full of post slung over one shoulder.

Cue the BBC having a reporter going around a market with a hand-held GPS, asking various people (a stall holder, a Santa) to walk at that pace. After they tried, each one said that they had more sympathy with the postal workers. Only right at the end of the piece did the presenter said that the post office claimed that the pace was a little over 2 MPH.

Here are some links to aspects of the story:
So, reading deeper, it looks like the post office are using a new software system to develop routes for the delivery staff "without agreement" of the union, and there have been a few problems with some of the rounds that it has produced.

A question would be how widespread these problems are. According to one of the links above:
"More and more managers are going out and delivering mail, which is not in their job description and they should not be doing. Mail backlogs or consistent returned mail, because of an over-estimated workload, have been reported this year in Watford, Enfield, Oxford, Coventry, Belfast, Cambridge and Evesham, amongst others."
So it appears that there are problems, but that it is hardly widespread - one part of London has problems, and nowhere in Scotland. And how many is 'amongst others?'. Yet the headlines of the articles (and especially the first paragraph) make it sound like all delivery workers are being asked to do this. Apparently the system has been rolled out throughout the country, after trials in selected areas.

So, what is the truth? The chances are, they both are. I guess (and it is just a guess) that the post office figure is an average over all their delivery workers, and that some will have faster rounds, and some slower. The 4MPH speed in the software may be a maximum permissible speed that is used when calculating the routing. It may also be that the union figure is a maximum on some rounds - certainly the postal workers I see around my area are certainly not going at 4 MPH. I also doubt that such a time would include the time it would take to get post out of a bag, sort it and put it through the right letterbox. If it did, it might explain the number of letters that I get for my neighbours.

The devil is in the details, and the piece from the BBC did absolutely no digging to try and get at that truth. Instead, they took the union line (4MPH) and made a show of how ridiculous it is. This was not investigative reporting; it was hardly reporting at all. The other links above show similar bias - the AOL link has only one line giving an opposing view, saying, "The Royal Mail has denied that anyone was being bullied or harassed."

There is a press release on the CWU website that goes into a little more detail about the claims; the press release from the union actually seems a little more reasonable than the Press Association copy.

Now, if postal delivery workers are being forced to walk at 4MPH for sustained periods, then that is wrong and needs correcting. It is just that I wonder how many rounds are affected? Surely, if the problem is not widespread, the best thing would be for the unions to discuss these issues directly with the management, and not make it sound like every postal worker is affected.

The media saying, "Some postal workers complained they were being pressured into walking faster to complete their rounds under cost-saving measures." instead of "Postal workers complained..." would be a good (and more truthful) start.

As an aside, when I was on my year-long, 6,000 miles walk around the coast of Britain a few years ago, I had a series of emails from a man who said that I was not a proper walker because I did not walk at 5 MPH. I find I can push myself to walk at 4.5 MPH, but beyond that I have to jog at 6.5 to 7 MPH because of my stride length. It's nice to know that you can walk such a distance and still not be a 'proper' walker...

No comments: