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Chronicle Live
Chronicle Live
Tom Beattie

'We want a resolution' - Thousands of striking Royal Mail workers take to picket lines across North East

Workers from the Royal Mail took to the picket lines across the North East today as part of the first day of 21 planned dates in coming months.

Members from the Communication Workers' Union (CWU) from across the region walked out as they seek to a resolution with the Royal Mail over their pay and conditions.

Members in the North East – a division with around 15,000 members and over 150 workplaces – joined around 115,000 staff nationwide in taking part in initial two-day walkout with widespread disruption to postal services expected as a result.

Read more: Stagecoach bus drivers in Sunderland vote for strike action in pay dispute

The Communication Workers Union (CWU) announced 19 further days of action taking place throughout October and November 2022 which the union says will have a "dramatic impact" during busy periods in the upcoming months with the Black Friday, Cyber Monday and the run-up to Christmas all set to be affected.

Speaking to ChronicleLive, CWU Newcastle Branch Secretary, Mark Hugall explained that the Royal Mail's strategy for moving forward will negatively impact their members describing their plans as a 'levelling down agenda'.

CWU Newcastle Branch Secretary Mark Hugall taking strike action at Royal Mail's Tyneside Mail Centre in Gateshead on Friday 30th September 2022. (ChronicleLive)

He said: "We are taking this strike action today and tomorrow over the changes that the company are trying to get through. We had a platform to work from and make changes in how best to grow this company and make it sustainable.

"Unfortunately, the company have de-recognised the agreement and the are pushing through their changes which is detrimental to our members' conditions. It's a levelling down agenda in terms of our sick pay, our starting and finishing times and the number of days that we work.

"The changes are just not acceptable to the workers. These workers are in every community, every town and city in all weathers making sure that the service is provided for businesses and homeowners and this is what we are absolutely up for- to protect that service and also our current conditions with the company."

Mr Hugall reinforced his belief that the decision to strike by members was the 'right response' to the Royal Mail's plans with CWC members in the North East feeling they had simply 'no choice' but to take action.

"We obviously wanted the company to come to the negotiating table and start a platform for negotiations. What they did do is set out their agenda and what they are going to moved forward which attacked our members' conditions. That needed a response and I believe the right response came from that."

"I went to several picket lines this morning around the Newcastle and Northumberland area, finishing off down at the Team Valley and the support has been incredible.

"We know when we take industrial action that there is then a backlog of mail coming through the system and it takes a longer period to clear that backlog. Usually, at this time of year the company maximise their profits as this is their busiest time."

He added: "Obviously, companies normally put their trust in the service to deliver their products on contracts worth millions of pounds. Customer confidence is going to be severely reduced and we obviously understand that there will be a loss to the company, however, if they were to get around the negotiating table and have meaningful talks, it doesn't have to be like that. It doesn't have to be like this.

"[CWU members] feel as though they've got no choice because the sacrifice in wages that they are making today, if they didn't make it, they would be forever accepting less with the levelling down agenda and tax on their current conditions going forward so they totally understand it."

CWU Members taking strike action at Royal Mail's Tyneside Mail Centre in Gateshead on Friday 30th September 2022. (ChronicleLive)

The Newcastle Branch Secretary described workers as feeling that they have been treated with 'utter contempt' by the Royal Mail with a lack of pay increase in line with inflation along with changes to working conditions - all while the company remained in £758m profit.

He explained: "People feel treated with contempt. The company made so much profit last year. They made £758m in profit and they are giving out £400m to shareholders. To impose the changes on cherished conditions such as sick pay and working hours, it's just utter contempt.

"How can the company make that much profit when a workforce is working six days a week in all weathers, carrying the mail? It's just really disrespectful to a solid, trusted workforce that the public cherish."

With the cost of living crisis still looming for millions of families around the country, Mr Hugall emphasised the impact that the strikes were having for many workers but said that he still felt reassured that the morale in the union remained high.

For him, any concerns in the short-term are very much offset by the potential for long term gain in terms of pay and conditions.

"Obviously, people are struggling in terms of how the economy is and the cost of living currently. They are taking the sacrifice and are concerned in terms of how long that is going to go on but at the moment, I don't see anybody at this point really suggesting anything other than supporting the strike.

"In terms of getting by, there are support mechanisms in place in terms of supporting them through the strikes. It's the long term that they are concerned about.

"In terms of the economy, it's likely to get worse before it gets better and if their conditions and their terms won't increase soon then they will be in this fight for a lot longer in terms of finance."

"There is concern regarding the loss of wages but that is overruled by the bigger concern of actually getting a pay rise and protecting conditions.

He also thanked the public for their show of support over the course of today and expressed his belief that the public understand their reasons for striking.

"The support is unbelievable. Everyone is together and we want a resolution. We would urge the negotiators from the company to sit down with ours and bring this to a resolution for everybody- let's grow together. We're better together, not divided.

"The public's support and the donations at the picket lines shows they understand exactly what we're doing and why.

He added: "They understand, with everything going on around the UK, our reasons. We've never seen support like this when we've taken industrial action before."

"We're confident that the company have to eventually, at some point, have to come to a resolution on this. The clock is ticking on the company."

A Royal Mail spokesman said: “The CWU can be in no doubt of the impact its reckless pursuit of 19 days of industrial action has on our weakened financial position and the job security of its members.

“Royal Mail is losing £1 million a day. We operate in a competitive market, and our customers have choices. Continued strike action will force our customers to make those choices sooner rather than later.

“Our invitation to enter into talks through Acas remains open. Our people need the CWU leadership to recognise the reality of the situation Royal Mail faces as a business, and to engage urgently on the changes required to adapt to customer demands in a highly competitive market.

“We apologise to our customers for the inconvenience the CWU’s continued strike action will cause.

“We are doing all we can to minimise any delays and keep people, businesses and the country connected.”

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