Huge piles of undelivered post are reportedly being left out in the elements at Bristol Mail Centre. And staff at the Filton site claim they have been told by management to bin flyers and promotional mail with questions raised by the union over the legality of that decision.
A Royal Mail worker of long service told Bristol Live they have never witnessed a backlog of deliveries like this before.
The worker, who has asked to remain anonymous due to fear of being dismissed after speaking to Bristol Live, said they are concerned for members of the public who have been waiting days to receive their packages with “more coming in than going out”.
According to the worker, the heaps of packages have now attracted rats and other animals including a fox. They said there have been talks of a tarpaulin to cover everything but said “it would have to be the biggest tarpaulin in the world as everything has been ruined”.
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They told Bristol Live that the well-being and mental health of many Royal Mail employees, many of whom are taking industrial action, at the site, have been gravely impacted due to worry about job losses, pay concerns and their working conditions. They said: “We are all extremely concerned because we don’t want to strike but we feel that we have to for the long term.
“My mental health is getting worse and I am not the only one – a lot of people are suffering. My family are worried because I cannot afford to keep them as they would like to, it’s hard,” they added.
As postal workers commence their 14th day of strike action today, nationally the CWU is holding a rally outside Parliament Square with five more strike dates planned before Christmas unless Royal Mail bosses change their current offer, which CWU says involves worsening terms and conditions alongside a below inflation pay award.
With Christmas just over two weeks away, today’s strike is likely to increase the pile-up but an overtime ban and recruitment freeze imposed by Royal Mail “are also to blame” for the current chaos at the Bristol Mail centre, according to Ben Watts, the CWU Bristol branch secretary.
A Royal Mail spokesman said: “We are doing all we can to deliver Christmas for our customers and minimise the impact of damaging industrial action. The CWU is striking at our busiest time, holding Christmas to ransom for our customers, businesses and families across the country.
“We apologise to our customers and strongly urge them to post early for Christmas. The pictures show busy mail centres with thousands of parcels moving through our network and this is typical for this time of the year.
“The sites shown are processing 30,000 parcels an hour so volume moves very quickly through the centres and on to the next stage in their journey. We have been doing a good job of quickly recovering from days of industrial action and have well-developed contingency plans in place to minimise delays and keep people, businesses and the country connected. However, we cannot fully replace the daily efforts of our frontline workforce on days the CWU are taking strike action.”
Royal Mail declined to comment on ‘speculation’ over the binning of flyers and promotional mail and confirmed that at present there is no overtime ban at Bristol Mail Centre.
Mr Watts, who has been working for the company for over 17 years, said: “This backlog will take at least a month to clear. When Royal Mail says, ‘everything is okay’ it’s absolutely not true. The work’s coming in, they’re onloading it but there’s nowhere to put it.
“If you post a first-class letter or parcel today, hand on heart, I do not know if it will get there before Christmas Eve, that’s the truth but it’s not what people are being told. “When you’ve paid for a 24-hour tracked [delivery], you’re paying for a service that you’re not getting.
“A postie who works at the centre described it like a game of Tetris. They end up taking all the work from outside and in the middle, the work that’s been there for days and weeks just stays there and you only just keep attacking the work on the outside.
“Christmas in Bristol works because staff put in a lot of overtime but there’s been a complete overtime ban from August 26 until December 5, so this is not just the result of industrial action. It’s a strike-busting tactic, they’re trying to get people to cross picket lines by stopping their earning potential.
“The number one resolution is an agreement nationally between Royal Mail and the CWU and locally we want all overtime bans relaxed and local management to talk to us so we can get things moving.”
The local union branch has written an open letter to management at Bristol Mail Centre over complaints that promotional mail is being binned and named St Mungo’s as one of the charities whose mail had been thrown out. Health and safety reps have called for management to address the fire safety hazard caused by the huge backlog blocking fire exits and access for fire engines to the centre.
Although Christmas plans start at the end of August, Mr Watts said they didn’t happen this year because the company refused to speak with the union. He said that Royal Mail has been recruiting agency staff while there is a ban on permanent staff recruitment but Royal Mail deny there was any recruitment freeze on permanent staff at Bristol Mail Centre.
Mr Watts said the union has support from agency staff who work on zero-hour contracts and claim they are treated badly by the company. According to Mr Watts some of them have joined the CWU and have been given permanent contracts, while others have agreed not to work on the strike days.