Communication Workers Union (CWU) members in Royal Mail will be balloted from 21 January to 4 February on the “Agenda for Growth” agreement.
The deal proposes a 9.1% pay increase over three years, and includes commitments by Royal Mail to protect workers’ terms and conditions for at least five years. But those commitments are undermined by an enormous loophole in the terms of the deal that allows Royal Mail to renege if bosses deem any of the protections “reasonably likely to have a materially adverse effect on the employer’s business or prospects”.
Workers who have not had a pay rise for nearly a year will be understandably tempted by what looks like a significant increase, but the 9.1% pay offer is only 0.5% more than the company’s initial offer, and still below inflation.
Most worrying of all is the clause in the deal which amounts to an effective no-strike agreement. The deal says: “The employer shall be entitled to notify the CWU at any time that any of the Protections will no longer continue, if […] there is national-scale industrial action (in the form of a strike or action short of a strike) which has been authorised at national level by the CWU [which] will have, or is reasonably likely to have, a [...] disruptive effect.” The power to decide what constitutes “disruptive” action lies with the bosses, meaning they could use any action bigger than a tiny local strike as an excuse to renege on the protections of terms and conditions in the deal.
With established private-sector rivals like Amazon operating notoriously exploitative regimes that keep costs down and wages low, the pressure will be on Royal Mail to find excuses to cut corners. The CWU leadership pulled a planned national strike in November 2013 to discuss and put the “Agenda for Growth” agreement to ballot; that hardly bodes well for their willingness to confront inevitable management hostility and pressure under the new deal.
Rank-and-file activists and militant branches in the CWU who understand how much of a step back a no-strike deal would be should organise for the biggest possible no vote.
After a cancelled strike and prolonged pay freeze, the odds are stacked against a no campaign; but even if the deal passes, a strong rank-and-file campaign will mean greater ability to organise under the new regime.