As a former postal worker, the privatised wrecking of Royal Mail breaks my heart
Carolyn Thomas MS
This week, the Senior Public Affairs team at Royal Mail went out of their way to send me a letter defending their attacks on pay and working conditions because I had published tweets in support of striking workers and the Communication and Workers’ Union (CWU).
Much of the letter was dedicated to attacking the CWU and placing the blame for this industrial action at the door of the union for standing up for postal workers across the UK. This couldn’t be further from the truth – in the same week in which I received the letter from Royal Mail, they announced that they would be looking to cut 10,000 jobs – a disgraceful, petty retaliation against those taking action to protect their livelihoods.
Before being elected as a Member of the Senedd for North Wales last year, I worked as a postal worker in the Royal Mail from 2015. I got to see first-hand the negative impact of the privatisation which had taken place under the coalition government in 2013.
From then until now, the fire-sale of this national institution to profiteers has seen a profitable and viable state-holding undergo exercise after exercise in asset stripping.
The signs have been there from the very beginning. The sale itself was a huge gift to profiteers with the government drastically undervaluing the business. An investment bank, Lazard, was paid £1.5m to provide flotation advice to the coalition government – essentially advising on what share price to set when selling the business on the private market.
Lazard themselves then purchased 6 million shares on the day the business was floated, paying their advised price of 330p per share. 48 hours later, they sold those 6 million shares at 470p per share, making a profit of £8.4m.
In total, across the Royal Mail business, this undervaluing cost the British taxpayer a staggering £750m in just one day. A polite reading of this sequence of events would be to view it as obscene levels of incompetence on the behalf of the coalition government. The motives of the investors involved in, and profiting from, the seemingly wilful undervaluation of the company would appear somewhat more sinister.
Fast-forward nine years and the country continues to pay the price – a near decade-long ripping off of the taxpayer which shows no sign of abating. Whilst the price of Royal Mail products has continued to rise, so have shareholder profits and CEO pay. At the same time, the Royal Mail workforce, who valiantly kept us in touch with one another during the pandemic, are having their pay and working conditions attacked and eroded.
The behaviour of Royal Mail throughout the latest debacle has been reprehensible. They have abandoned mutually-agreed plans for modernisation and instead continued to pursue their asset-stripping agenda which threatens the future of the company. They have attempted to use agency workers to undermine the strike, whilst using their social media accounts to goad and boast about their behaviour.
Their justification for all of this is that the business apparently requires such changes in order to remain viable and profitable. But these clarion calls fall on deaf ears when coming from a business that made £758m in profit last year, gave its shareholders £400m and paid its CEO £753,000. It is pretty clear where the excesses are and those excesses sit at the top of the business, not on the pavements of our streets or in the sorting offices.
Over the last few months, I have stood on picket lines with my former colleagues across North Wales. On those picket lines, the visible displays of support from the public have been, and will continue to be, vital in putting a halt to the continued demolition of the Royal Mail as we know it.
Fundamentally, there are lessons to be learned for politicians about the failures and consequences of privatisation – but whilst those failures and consequences are being painted vividly at the moment with Royal Mail, the wreckage of privatisation is strewn across the fabric of this country, from water and energy companies to our buses and railways.
As a former postal worker, the wrecking of Royal Mail at the hands of this unhinged profit-obsessed mantra is heart-breaking. Moving forward in this dispute, our unity of message must be clear: enough is enough. We will not accept the replacement of workers with self-employed new entrants on reduced pay and the forced adoption of a gig-economy business model. We must save the Royal Mail.
Carolyn Thomas is the MS for North Wales.
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