Dark times for Royal Mail

The last seven days have been the mother of all bad weeks for Royal Mail.

Russell Parsons

When members of the Communications Workers Union voted for a national strike last week, serious questions were immediately being asked about its future.

The piles of undelivered mail resulting from regional summer strikes disappear under the mountains of mail that country-wide action would create.

Amazon, eBay, Argos are all reportedly looking at alternative delivery services, while postal consultant Post-Switch estimates that a quarter of Royal Mail’s 100 biggest customers are ready to jump ship to rivals.

Further bad news for the postal service came from the British Chambers of Commerce, which found three-quarters of the 250 businesses it surveyed are considering using an alternative delivery service.

The Royal Mail described the consequences of industrial action as “very damaging”, which albeit portentous seems almost understated in what feels like a watershed week for the 350-year-old organisation.

Ever since its monopoly was ended in 2006, business has flowed out of the postal service and into the hands of nimble (and less unionised) rivals such as TNT Post and UK Mail.

There is a fear that strike action in the run up to Christmas will permanently scar the already bruised brand with high volume producers of direct mail and retail institutions not only looking at short-term contingencies but permanent alternatives.

Then, of course, there is the plight of the small and medium-sized businesses that can not afford couriers and rely on an efficient postal service. The consequences for them could be crippling.

The CWU’s concern over jobs, working practices and pay are very real, and arguably legitimate – postal workers in many places are being asked to do a lot more for, in some cases, less.

But so are fears over the long-term effects of continued strike action. The Government, Royal Mail and CWU chiefs need to find a workable solution, and quick.

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