Postal staff put stamp on UK outbreak

ST ALBANS • “It’s been like Christmas,” said one Royal Mail Group plc postal worker of the surge in parcels delivered across the city of St Albans during the coronavirus pandemic — a situation repeated across Britain.

The bulk of the population continues to work remotely and shop online despite Britain’s easing lockdown, resulting in the former state-run company helping the likes of Inc to fulfil orders.

However, the large jump in packages has not been enough to offset a slump in the company’s core letters business as Britons use social media to keep in touch — a factor behind the sudden departure last month of CEO Rico Back.

While Royal Mail staff delivered 308 million fewer letters in the five weeks to May 3, down 33% on a year earlier, parcel deliveries jumped 31%.

Back’s exit after less than two years in the role came after union bosses accused the company of being slow to provide protective equipment such as masks, gloves and sanitiser to workers.

Communication Workers Union (CWU) official Vinnie Micallef said after Back “totally lost his workforce”, much has “settled down” under Royal Mail’s interim head Keith Williams, a former British Airways CEO.

“We’re hopeful that we can stabilise the company again and any changes that need to be made can be done together,” Micallef told AFP.

Born more than 500 years ago, Royal Mail has experienced some of its most turbulent times during the past decade, notably its controversial privatisation in 2013.

Its attempts to modernise in the Internet age have led to many battles with unions.

Late last year, the company won a High Court injunction to block strike action during the busy pre-Christmas period.

More recently, unions feared that by temporarily cutting Saturday deliveries to ease the burden on staff during the pandemic, Back wanted to permanently reduce Royal Mail’s cherished six-days-a-week service.

The CWU claims such a change could cost 20,000 jobs, or around 12% of the company’s workforce.

Royal Mail employees are in no doubt, however, about enjoying elevated status with the UK public thanks to their key role in delivering virus test-kits and helping businesses to survive the economic fallout.

London postal worker Sahir Saeed, who had to self-isolate for 14 days at his family’s home after his father caught the virus, said households are offering him plenty of food and drink while out on his rounds. — AFP