TUC Conference 2013

CWU is represented this week, alongside all other affiliate unions, at the TUC Congress 2013. The congress is being held in Bournemouth and the union has a full delegation in attendance to promote members’ interests.

Kicking off the week, CWU joined other unions by holding a press conference with the national media. Hosted by CWU’s general secretary Billy Hayes and head of communications Kevin Slocombe, the conference updated the press on the union’s campaign against the privatisation of Royal Mail and the announced national strike. In addition the general secretary fielded questions on the ongoing POL dispute and a lead news story on the Labour / trade union link. Billy also appeared live on SkyNews on the latter subject and promoted the CWU’s postal strike ballot.

The conference opened on Sunday (8 September) and the first day’s business focussed on employment rights and equalities.

Day 1:

CWU delegates were involved right from start of TUC 2013, speaking in the first two debates which covered some of the most contentious subjects on the agenda.

“There are no laws so bad that they can’t be made worse by the Tories” Unite general secretary Len McClusky told Congress in moving the first motion of this year’s event. Composite motion 14 cut straight to the heart of cuts to employment rights, worsening terms and conditions for workers and more attacks on trade union rights.

Speakers from a range of unions raised the spectrum of attacks on employment rights and conditions – from zero hour contracts, the ‘shares for rights’ scheme, and fees for employment tribunals – in an annual round-up of how bad things have got in the last year. As a Prospect speaker put it; “the list of attacks on employment rights is never-ending.”

Speaking in support of the motion, CWU deputy general secretary Andy Kerr told Congress of the cautionery tale of union derecognition in Virgin Media. “Union-busting practices are becoming commonplace” he warned. Andy explained how last November CWU and BECTU were given two days’ notice of the company’s intention to consult on union recognition. Staff were bombarded with company propaganda and the company included people not in union bargaining units in a ballot on recognition. The result was a slim 52% in favour of derecognition. “Our members were angry, shocked and in some cases scared” said Andy, pointing out that there has never been a dispute with the company. “Union-busting is big business, worth £4 billion the USA, and a manager in the company has form in this area.”

Andy’s contribution added to other shocking stories on the removal of health and safety protections, and exploitation of working people. With a wide range of examples, the motion was carried, calling on the TUC to oppose detrimental changes to employment rights, campaign for positive legal frameworks for trade unions, and to end the ability of companies to hire ‘union busters’, among other obligations.

Coordinated strike action was the subject of the second motion – a subject which the TUC General Council took no position on, leaving Congress to decide. RMT general secretary Bob Crow moved the motion with a characteristically impassioned speech, saying: “We have marched and they’ve not listened to us. We have to do what the trade union movement always does – get off our knees and fight for what we stand for.”

Tony Kearns at TUC 2013
CWU senior deputy general secretary Tony Kearns spoke to second the motion. In urging Congress to vote in favour, he described the economic landscape in which the argument is embedded. “4.8 million people are earning less than the living wage, 14 million are living below the poverty line, use of food banks has tripled and homelessness has risen 23% – and all this in the sixth richest economy in the world. And yet corporate profit is at highest levels” he said. “The narrative of media is to drive unions out of political life. The acts of government are coordinated and it’s right that we review our position to consider coordinated action in response” he said.

The motion brought opposition from Community, USDAW, Prospect and ATL, but when put to the vote TUC President Lesley Mercer announced it was “clearly carried”.

In her address to Congress, Lesley paid tribute to public services telling delegates “companies like Royal Mail make our society civilised”.

International speaker Amirul Haque Amin from the Bangladesh garment workers’ union addressed Congress towards the end of the day. He spoke of the 1,133 workers who were killed and 1,500 injured when a factory collapsed earlier in the year. He urged members to put pressure on UK retailers to sign up to an accord which would provide protections for workers. His message was one of solidarity and international support and he received a standing ovation from delegates. Congress then voted through motion 76 in support of the IndusriALL/UNI Global Union Accord and calling for similar ethical trading initiatives covering goods and shops in the UK.

TUC 2013 continues in Bournemouth this week until Wednesday. More reports to follow. Follow @CWUnews on Twitter for live updates.

CWU delegation:

The delegation is led by general secretary, Billy Hayes and senior deputy general secretary Tony Kearns. Both deputy general secretaries Andy Kerr and Dave Ward are present, as is national president Jane Loftus. The remainder of the delegation is made up of representatives elected to specifically represent CWU at TUC. From the NEC are Nick Darbyshire and Mick Kavanagh and from the T&FS executive, Tracey Fussey. Bob McGuire is a Divisional representative for the North East and other delegates are Craig Anderson, Francis Banks, Jackie Gatward, Kate Hudson, Jim McKechnie, Sajid Shaikh, Jean Sharrocks, Amarjite Singh, Joyce Stevenson and Tony Sneddon.

Parliament demands ‘concrete protections’ for mail

General secretary Billy Hayes has welcomed this week’s House of Commons resolution* calling on the Government to provide “concrete protections” for rural postal services and maintain the current universal service obligation.

On the same day that the CWU announced its decision to hold a national strike ballot, MPs debated a motion proposed by North Ayrshire and Arran Member Katy Clark, which voiced widespread concerns at the twin impact of Royal Mail privatisation and end-to-end competition on the remote areas of the UK.

Backbench Conservatives and Liberal Democrats from rural areas of England joined Labour Members and those from the parties of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in expressing their fears over what could happen if this vital public service is left at the mercy of unregulated privateers.

“This cross-party breadth of opinion accurately reflects what our activists have been reporting from their high street campaign stalls right around the country,” Billy said, and explained: “Apprehensions about the future are felt by supporters of all the parties – and particularly in less populated parts of the nation.

“We welcome this resolution as a clear indication of the vital importance of our industry to every part of the UK.”

MP Katy Clark speaking at a parliamentary debate opposing Royal Mail privatisation in June.
Introducing the debate in the Commons, Ms Clark said: “I represent a rural constituency which contains many small town and island communities, and I know there is a great deal of concern among post offices in my area about the impact that privatisation will have on the services that they provide.

“Rural post offices and postal services are most vulnerable because they are the most costly.

“Private parcel delivery companies routinely charge a high premium for delivering to remote or rural areas or to islands-or simply refuse to deliver at all,” she continued, adding: “Even in areas of my constituency where private companies are normally willing to deliver, as soon as there is a bit of bad weather only Royal Mail continues to provide a service.”

Read Katy Clark’s speech in full.

Her fellow Scots Mike Weir (Angus) and Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) also contributed to the discussion, Mr Weir arguing that “a reliable universal mail service is essential” to small, local businesses, while Mr Reid pointed out that the “Department for Work and Pensions has an important role to play by giving business to the Post Office.”

Eilidh Whiteford (Banff and Buchan) agreed that the sell-off could impact negatively on small businesses, predicting that “the whole local economy of large swathes of rural parts across these islands will be severely detrimentally affected.”

Ms Whiteford said that her constituency had no railway stations and also had problems with broadband access. She insisted that it was therefore “important”, to recognise that the Post Office and postal services are “part of the essential infrastructure” in such localities.

From across the Irish Sea, South Down’s Margaret Ritchie described the legislative provisions relating to the universal service in the 2011 Postal Services Act as “lukewarm reassurances.”

Ms Ritchie told the House that, among her constituents “it is feared that once private owners are placed under financial and competitive pressure, they will re-examine it and seek to change the terms of that important social compact, or be forced to contract their service.”

North Antrim MP Ian Paisley warned that some of his electors could be “starved of a service.

“People on the island of Rathlin, which I represent, will be forced to come to the mainland of Northern Ireland to collect their post,” he explained, and insisted: “Such a strangulation of service cannot be allowed to happen.”

Summing up the feelings of most people, the independent Member for North Down, Sylvia Hermon, said: “There will remain a nervousness and anxiety right across Northern Ireland about the Government’s future intentions in relation to both Royal Mail and postal services.”

Former Government Minister Peter Hain (Neath) highlighted the problems faced by many residents of “the remote former mining villages” in his South Wales constituency.

“There are many pensioners and others who do not have cars and are not online and for whom rural postal services are absolutely vital and the universal service provided by the Royal Mail makes a vital contribution to life,” he told the Chamber.

Like Ms Ritchie, Mr Hain was not reassured by the service protections contained within the 2011 Act – they cover “only the basic minimum” and “could be easily changed while remaining legally compliant,” he pointed out.

Susan Elan Jones (Clwyd South) echoed Ms Whiteford’s dire forecast about potential damage to local, rural economies, describing as “immense” the “disincentive” effect that higher postal costs will have on small businesses when the public-service ethos of Royal Mail is replaced by the profit motive.

“I urge the Government to listen to the ‘country mice’ and reconsider their flawed and unpopular plans to privatise Royal Mail,” she concluded.

English Conservatives Paul Beresford (Mole Valley), Neil Carmichael (Stroud), Jesse Norman (Hereford and South Herefordshire) and Sarah Newton (Truro and Falmouth) all took the opportunity to have their say on the issue. And while they were critical of past Labour Governments, each of them also expressed areas of concern about the uncertain future.

Mr Norman reminded the House that “many of these sub-post offices are also rural sorting offices and it is equally important to preserve that aspect,” while Ms Newton was worried that “there will be cases in which remote rural communities need these services so much that, although it will not be possible for them to develop commercially, they will need continued public subsidy.”

Mr Beresford said: “The importance and vitality of a rural post office and postal service must not be underestimated” and Mr Carmichael pledged: “Those of us in rural areas will argue strongly that as we move into a new era for postal services, those services must be protected in law.”

Labour’s John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) strongly criticised the current Government for its “failure to deliver the additional work promised to the post offices,” suggesting that this was the reason why “the industry has lost confidence in the Government,” and his Labour colleague Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) told MPs that “the link between Royal Mail and individual post offices is crucial.”

For the Liberal Democrats, North Cornwall’s Dan Rogerson described his constituency as a “big rural area without a single railway station and where people rely on services that are close to them, wherever possible.

“It is a huge source of anxiety to them if they feel that a service that provides access to the wider world is going to be withdrawn,” he continued, insisting: “Postal services are vital.”

Post Office Minister Jo Swinson replied to the debate by setting out the Government’s policy and the reasons for it, making a particular mention of the 2008 Hooper Report and the recommendations that Richard Hooper made at the time.

On the issue of Royal Mail privatisation, Ms Swinson put forward the Government’s main argument that this is necessary in order for the company to “access private capital,” but she did not reply to the argument that both Katy Clark and Peter Hain had put forward that privatisation is not necessary for this, or their citing of the example of Network Rail.

Reflecting on the debate, Billy Hayes said: “It’s quite revealing to hear so many contributions from all of these different areas of the country – but the worries are all very similar.

“The Government has not made a case for privatisation at all – their main argument still seems to be this old chestnut that it’s ‘the only way to access capital’ which we’ve pointed out time and time again is not necessary.

“Network Rail is a not-for-profit company, which accesses private capital for its infrastructure investment and, crucially, it’s this very status of Network Rail that gives it stability, makes it a ‘sound investment’ and means that it can ‘access private capital’ at far, far better rates than any private company would be able to do.

“The Government’s main argument is completely contradicted by the actual reality,” Billy concluded.

* “That this House recognises the vital contribution that Royal Mail makes to rural areas; notes that the six day a week collection and delivery service to rural and remote areas is invaluable to local life; further notes that the relationship Royal Mail has with the post office network is equally important for the continued survival of post offices; recognises that the impending privatisation of Royal Mail will place a question mark over its willingness to maintain what may be loss-making services; and calls on the Government to provide more concrete, long-term protections for postal services in rural areas, remote areas and islands while ensuring that the postal universal service obligation in its current form endures.”

Petition delivers opposition to Royal Mail privatisation to Prime Minister

A petition being handed into Number 10 today (Wednesday) shows the swell of public opposition to government plans to privatise Royal Mail.

CWU general secretary Billy Hayes joins campaigners from the Save Our Royal Mail coalition to hand in a 160,000 strong petition to Downing Street, sending a strong message that the public do not support the government’s plans.

Billy Hayes, pictured far left, with campaigners from the Save Our Royal Mail coalition
Billy Hayes, CWU general secretary, said: “This petition is an indication of the strong opposition felt across the country against plans to privatise Royal Mail. This company is a valued national asset which made £403 million profit last year and is the foundation of the country’s mail services.

“At events up and down the country we have met people from all walks of life who are against privatisation plans. Tens of thousands more signatures are also on paper petitions collected at street stalls in towns and villages across the UK. Last weekend we were in Twickenham – Vince Cable’s constituency – and shoppers were queuing up to sign the petitions against privatisation.

“There are plenty of options for keeping Royal Mail a successful, publicly-owned company and we hope that the Prime Minister will take on board the views of significant numbers of British people.”

If the petition had been hosted on the Number 10 website it would have smashed the target of 100,000 signatures required to secure a debate in parliament on the issue. A BIS Select Committee session on Royal Mail privatisation and shares due to be held next week has been postponed until October.

Presenting the petition to Downing Street at 2pm on Wednesday 4 September are:

Billy Hayes – General Secretary of the Communication Workers Union
Darren Rowbotham – Postman who wrote a petition on change.org
Dot Gibson – General Secretary of the National Pensioners Convention
Mario Dunn – Campaign Director of Save Our Royal Mail
Martin Forsythe – Campaign Manager of Save Our Royal Mail
Katy Clark MP – Labour
Kate Hoey MP – Labour
Mike Weir MP – Scottish National Party

No to privatisation – TUC & Labour

CWU leaders will be seeking the support of both the TUC and Labour Party for the fight against Royal Mail privatisation in September, when congress and conference delegates will be urged to back motions opposing the controversial sale.

The CWU’s motion to TUC, which will be moved by deputy general secretary Dave Ward, calls on the six-million strong union federation to: “Support the campaign to Save Our Royal Mail” and asks every one of the 54 affiliated unions to “participate in its activities.”

Congress delegates, who will assemble in Bournemouth next week, will also be asked to give their backing to the CWU’s 4,000 Post Office members, who have taken 11 days of strike action since Easter in their fight for fair pay, job security and the defence of the network.

Later this month, CWU general secretary Billy Hayes will ask Labour Party members to re-affirm their solid anti-privatisation position, and to commit the next Labour government to returning Royal Mail to public ownership if the current government carries out the sale.

Speaking to yesterday’s CWU national postal briefing, Billy explained: “We’ve got a contemporary motion, but sometimes not every contemporary motion is heard. So we need support from some of the larger unions to ensure our motion remains on the agenda.”

“There are indications that both Unite and the GMB may support our motion, and this will be extremely welcome and helpful.”

The general secretary also asked all CWU members who belong to the Labour Party to seek the support of their local CLPs for the motion, adding that this would also increase its chances of being debated at the Brighton conference.

“We’ve also got a Labour Party Conference Fringe meeting planned in the town on the 23 September, which is the Monday of conference, and we want to encourage as many people as possible to come along,” Billy continued.

There will also be ‘Save Our Royal Mail’ fringe meetings at both Liberal Democrat and Conservative party conferences, with panels set to debate the arguments for and against privatisation.

Yesterday’s CWU briefing also heard Dave Ward set out the timetable for the forthcoming national industrial action ballot and the key reasons for the dispute, which can be read here: Strike ballot for Royal Mail workers.

In a stirring speech to some 500 reps and branch officers who had gathered from across the country, Dave said: “There are enormously high stakes and these are vitally important issues – pay, pensions, and the impact of competition and privatisation on terms and conditions.”

The key aim of the union is to win a legally binding comprehensive agreement with Royal Mail, which will continue to apply permanently “regardless of ownership,” he explained.

And if the company wants to avoid a dispute, then they must “do the right thing and reach agreement with us”, Dave added.

Every dispute carries an element of risk, Dave continued, but added: “The risk of doing nothing is greater and these issues are worth fighting for.”

Billy highlighted the need for unity across the union at this time, warning the audience to prepare for the inevitable attacks from the CWU’s opponents.

“They’ll say this is just an ideological issue over ownership of the company – but we must remain focussed on the fact that this is a serious dispute about defending our members in the workplace,” he said.


Motion to Labour Party

No privatisation of Royal Mail

“Conference notes the August publication of Royal Mail executives’ pay levels, with its chief executive earning £1.47 million.

Conference notes the intention of the coalition government to privatise Royal Mail in the autumn or winter.

Conference states its opposition because it will lead to:

Higher prices for small businesses and domestic consumers
Pressure to end the six-day delivery and uniform tariff
A deterioration of services in rural and ‘non-profitable’ areas
The prioritisation of shareholder dividends over service provision
Conference believes it is vital Labour is seen to defend the public postal service. The most recent YouGov poll registered 67 per cent against the privatisation of Royal Mail.

Conference notes Royal Mail made £403m profit in the most recent financial year. Any necessary investment in Royal Mail can be secured from its own profits, and by allowing it to borrow from commercial markets. Across the EU, government-related entities like Royal Mail are allowed such facilities. Royal Mail could become a successful ‘not-for-dividend’ company whilst remaining a publicly owned service. In line with practice elsewhere in the EU, such borrowing would not be counted on the PSBR (public sector borrowing requirement).

Conference believes privatisation will jeopardise the contribution Royal Mail makes to the national economy through the universal service obligation. Conference agrees an incoming Labour government should re-nationalise Royal Mail in the event of the coalition government actually selling the company.

Finally, Conference agrees organising against the proposed sale should be an immediate focus for the Labour Party.”

Supporting information (not part of the motion)

On Friday 2nd August, details of Royal Mail executives’ remuneration were published indicating private-sector excess is already affecting pay levels as the government prepares to try to sell the company off.

There were 12 Royal Mail executives who shared pay and packages totalling £3,753,000 last year.

The company is now paying £1.47m to chief executive Moya Greene for 2012/13 – up more than a third from the previous year, when she took home £1.1m.

Moya Greene and senior executives Mark Higson and Matthew Lester all receive a cash supplement equivalent to 40 per cent of their salary in lieu of pensions.

The government plans to try to sell Royal Mail this year. Labour should oppose it and make clear it will reverse any such move.

Motion to TUC

Royal Mail Privatisation

Congress notes the intention of the Coalition Government to privatise Royal Mail. Privatisation will lead to higher prices for domestic and small business customers. Private owners will press for the removal of the current universal service and uniform tariff obligations. Inevitably service will decline for rural and remote areas.

Congress rejects the government’s suggestion that this is the only method that can secure investment for the service. In the previous year Royal Mai made £411 million profit as a public service, and could become self-financing. Without changing ownership, Royal Mail could borrow money from markets, at a cheaper rate, in line with companies such as Network Rail. Such methods of investment operate throughout the EU for government related entities such as Royal Mail.

Congress applauds the decision of postal workers to reject privatisation in an independent ballot by 96% on a 74% turnout. This was despite government attempts to buy-off the workforce with suggestions of a distribution of shares to staff.

Congress registers that the CWU is in dispute with Royal Mail on future terms and conditions, and supports its campaign to defend these.

Further, Congress supports Post Office staff who have undertaken a number of days strike action for justice on pay, and against the downgrading of the Crown Office network. Congress pledges its support for an equitable settlement.

Congress agrees to support the campaign to Save Our Royal Mail (SORM), and directs the General Council to ensure the TUC’s participation in its initiatives.

Royal Mail Strike Ballot

2nd September 2013

CWU, the union representing postal workers, today (Monday) announced it will ballot for a national postal strike this month, if current ongoing talks with Royal Mail do not bring agreement. CWU is planning for ballot papers to go out on 20 September to 125,000 Royal Mail workers in what would be the first national strike ballot since 2009.

The union is in dispute regarding the settlement of its 2013 pay claim, further changes to workers’ pension scheme, the impact of possible privatisation on job security and terms and conditions, and the company’s future strategy.

CWU will give notice for the ballot of all Royal Mail and Parcelforce (but not Post Office) workers to commence on 20 September with a result to be announced on 3 October. If there was a yes vote, the union would then be able to give 7 days’ notice for strike action, with the earliest strike action possible from 10 October.

Dave Ward, CWU deputy general secretary, who is leading the current talks for CWU, said: “We are dealing with a company that is preparing for privatisation with relish. While the union continues to fight privatisation we are also dealing with the potential realities for workers if there is a change of ownership.

“We are looking to reach a groundbreaking agreement on terms and conditions that sets unprecedented legally binding protection for workers in the event of a sale, and regardless of who owns the company. Postal workers know franchising, break up and sale of mail centres, distribution hubs and Parcelforce, along with the introduction of a new workforce on lower terms and conditions, are real threats in a race to the bottom with mail competitors for any new company.

“We want Royal Mail and the government to put protections in place that are both meaningful and lasting” he added.

Strike “inevitable”

CWU believes a strike is inevitable unless the company meet the needs of the workforce regardless of ownership.

“Talks continue but while we talk, the company presses on with privatisation, pension changes, another round of budget cuts and an approach to parcel and packet growth that ignores the real issues and problems in workplaces. This culture of mis-management has to stop and our members need and deserve a decent pay increase, protections for terms and conditions, protection of their pension benefits and manageable workloads” concluded Dave Ward.

Pay and conditions

The union has already rejected a below-inflation pay offer for 2013 which is linked to accepting major changes to working conditions and pensions. CWU is demanding a straightforward, above inflation, no strings pay deal which 99% of workers voted for in a consultative ballot in June. In addition, CWU is seeking an agreement on terms and conditions being protected for 10 years in the event of change of ownership.

Dave said: “Royal Mail continues to prepare for privatisation with relentless rounds of budget cuts in offices across the UK. There is no understanding that the pace of change can really only be led by how hard people can work and CWU members are being driven to absorb absences, carry increasing amounts of mail and work harder than is possible in many cases. We have reached breaking point, particularly in delivery offices and the culture has to change.”

Workplace stress

There is a range of local disputes and strikes, either close or already in progress, as Royal Mail continues annual rounds of budget cuts in workplaces that are stretching workers to the limit.CWU is looking to address these issues by agreeing working practices that are manageable and take into account for the first time, the growth in parcels and packets in the mail.

“Royal Mail has announced it is a parcel company that carries letters but has no clue how to manage that change” said Dave, adding: “We need an agreement that recognises the change in profile of the mail and puts in place an infrastructure to carry more packets and parcels, while rewarding workers properly and delivering a manageable workload.”


In addition, Royal Mail has created more concern for its staff by announcing new problems with its pension scheme. Despite the government taking control of the assets in 2012 to pave the way for privatisation, the company wants to use remaining assets to reduce its own contributions. The company completed a formal consultation in August and the union is calling for an agreed process to protect members’ benefits.

“There is a great hypocrisy in the way the scheme is being managed by Royal Mail” said Dave Ward. “The company wants to keep its contribution rate to 17% whilst maintaining managers’ benefits at 40%. They can afford higher contributions to protect postal workers’ benefits.”

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