The former Royal Mail boss Rico Back has launched a withering attack on the company’s board, saying its chief executive lacked experience and had mishandled talks with the Communication Workers Union that led to strikes and chaos in the run-up to Christmas.
Royal Mail has been locked for months in an increasingly bitter battle with the CWU over pay and changes to working conditions. Simon Thompson joined as chief executive two years ago from the online grocer Ocado.
More than 100,000 postal workers have staged a series of strikes since late August, culminating in six days of industrial action leading up to Christmas. The union has rejected Royal Mail’s “best and final” offer of a pay rise of up to 9% over 18 months in exchange for changes to working hours and Sunday working, as part of a shift towards parcel deliveries, which are booming.
The board “wasted time” and had “not executed properly” in negotiations with the union, Back, a German businessman who ran the postal group from 2018 until 2020 and founded its European parcel delivery business, told the Sunday Times.
He argued that Royal Mail had failed to use the opportunity offered by the Covid pandemic to prepare the ground for changes to working practices.
The former Royal Mail boss said: “They wasted time and have not executed properly. Posties understand the need to change but it needs to be done in a social, friendly way. The board missed this opportunity and right now are on a more confrontational path, which is not necessary. Also, the chief executive has never run a big company and does not have knowledge of logistics. Both together is a toxic mixture.”
Before joining Royal Mail, Thompson was the chief product officer at Ocado and previously worked for HSBC and Morrisons in senior roles.
Back questioned Royal Mail’s decision to return £400m to shareholders via a special dividend and share buyback in late 2021, after suspending payouts during Covid. He said the money should have been used instead to help ease the shift away from letters, which are on a declining trend, and towards parcel deliveries.
“I think if they had gone to the shareholders, they would have understood it,” Back said. “But they didn’t even try … They are back to square one now, they are back to the pre-Covid period, they are back to the start of the strategy.”
During his time at the helm, Back – who worked for the company for three decades, also battled with unions over restructuring plans for the ailing business.
Royal Mail declined to comment.