Leaked footage and images, obtained by i, show Royal Mail sorting offices across Britain crammed full of trolleys piled high with parcels as workers warn that Christmas post may not be delivered on time.
Even before the latest wave of strike action began on Wednesday, images and video show sorting offices were already facing a huge backlog caused by a months-long bitter dispute between unionised Royal Mail workers and their employer.
Postal workers have told i that there is “literally nowhere to move” and that some sorting offices are so full that parcels are having to be stored in lorries and trailers outside.
NHS appointment letters and new bank cards are not being prioritised, with delivery workers told to focus on parcels instead, i has been told. Royal Mail denies this is the case.
Royal Mail claimed the images were “not unsual for the time of year” and accused the union of “holding Christmas to ransom for customers, businesses and families.” It advised customers to post items as early as possible.
The run-up to Christmas is always busy but one postal worker said that this year is “nothing like any of us have ever seen before” due to the knock-on impact of the industrial action.
The Communication Workers Union (CWU) member, who i is not naming, warned that letters and cards may not arrive in time for the festive period even if they are sent now.
Asked why workers continue to strike when they know it will cause severe disruption to people across Britain, the postie said: “It’s just terribly, terribly sad, because we don’t want to be stood here, we’re obviously not getting paid. There will not be a Royal Mail as we know it if this continues, because these people in charge of this company are not interested in Royal Mail as the business it is. All they want is to make it into a parcel company.”
When are the Royal Mail strikes?
CWU members who collect, sort and deliver parcels and letters walked out this week from Wednesday 30 November to Thursday 1 December.
The CWU has formally notified Royal Mail of a series strikes later in December, with the following dates affected:
- Friday 9 December
- Sunday 11 December
- Wednesday 14 December
- Thursday 15 December
- Friday 23 December
- Saturday 24 December
With a battle raging between the union and Royal Mail, there is no sign of an agreement being reached. Earlier this week, CWU refused to accept Royal Mail’s final pay offer, branding it a “devastating blow”.
Meanwhile, Royal Mail chief executive officer, Simon Thompson, has accused the the CWU leadership of “doing everything they can to destroy Christmas”.
The CWU hit back, claiming Mr Thompson was not present at the final talks. He said he was “always available” to resolve the dispute.
With no resolution in sight, postal workers have predicted that the backlogged post is only going to get worse. Images obtained by i show post piled high at sorting offices in the north-west and south-west of England and in Essex, in the south-east.
One postal worker, from the south-west of England, said: “I wouldn’t bother sending Christmas cards this year. I really don’t think they’re going to get there before Christmas. And we’re on 1 December.
“I can’t see us recovering from this now. I don’t see how we can. It just makes me feel upset and sad for people.”
She described the scenes in her local sorting office as “chaotic”, with staff unable to move around the building due to a build up of trollies filled to the brim with post.
“When it becomes chaotic like that, where it’s no system, then that’s when things start to go wrong and people start to have accidents,” she added.
A postman, working in Ayrshire who spoke on condition of anonymity, said staff are told to prioritise parcels over flat items including NHS letters, new bank cards and Christmas cards.
“We’re told to prioritise what Royal Mail class as ‘high value’ items like parcels,” he said. “What they class as ‘lower value’ stuff like people’s bank cards and hospital appointment letters are being left in the frames.”
He said it upsets him as he considers customers his friends, having built a relationship with them over his 17 years as a postman. “On a personal level, we try and get [NHS letters and bank cards] out if we spot them but there’s so much mail it’s like finding a needle in the haystack,” he added.
He said managers encourage staff to take up to 10 bags of post into their vans for the day “just so they can say the office is clear”, knowing “full well” it will be brought back because the employee will not have time to deliver it all.
Asked why he was choosing to strike, he said: “You don’t want to destroy their [the customers’] Christmas, but at the end of the day, we were going to have nothing at the end of this, we’re going to have nothing. We’re just going to survive.
“A lot of posties are conflicted, because it going to let the customers down but they know they need to fight for the future. Not just for them but for Royal Mail.”
A Royal Mail spokesperson said: “We have well-developed contingency plans in place to ensure our customers are looked after, and minimise delays during CWU’s industrial action to keep people, businesses and the country connected.
“These images are not unusual for peak season when our mail centres and delivery offices process very high volumes of mail items. The images show mail in the process of being unloaded and moved through our systems for onward distribution.
“The CWU is striking at our busiest time, holding Christmas to ransom for our customers, businesses and families across the country. We apologise for any inconvenience the CWU’s industrial action is causing.
“We advise customers to post items as early as possible, to ensure Christmas letters and parcels reach their destination in good time.
“Every item of mail is important to us. Royal Mail does not operate a policy of prioritising parcels. We regularly remind colleagues that the delivery, collection and processing of letters and parcels should be treated with equal importance.”