Thursday, 29 October 2009

Royal Mail dispute: what's all that about then?

Is it just me, or are you also in the dark over what the Royal Mail strike is actually about? OK, it’s obvious that management of Royal Mail want to “introduce modern working practices” (whatever that actually means) and striking staff feel the need to protest against Royal Mail for “making efficiency cuts without modernising the service” but beyond that, the details of the dispute seem to have evaded me.

With that in mind, I’m therefore not sure whether my local postie is a workshy, lazy, trouble-maker (assuming that he’s one of those on strike) or a strike-breaking scab (if he’s not!)

Terminology like this is the subject of a brief article in this week’s Personnel Today, which also explores the inevitable polarisation of opinion that takes place during any dispute. The forced choice for Royal Mail staff to nail their colours to the mast of either “striker” or “scab” leads to the inevitable creation of stereotypes which in turn brings about “a self-fulfilling cycle that further divides the groups, as they consistently look for positive similarities with their own group while making negative comparisons with colleagues in the other group. Any small or insignificant differences are quickly blown into major points of disagreement, leading to emotional, long-lasting divisions between once friendly and supportive colleagues”

So, as the article suggests, although the Royal Mail dispute may have a short-term resolution, the rifts that form during strike action tend to be long-lasting and deep.

Strikes: the psychological impact on non-striking staff
  • One for teachers: research the background to the Royal Mail dispute to ensure that students are aware of the positions of both parties
  • One for HR professionals: if you were part of Royal Mail, how could you improve the public’s awareness of what this dispute is actually about?
  • One for the rest of you: where do your sympathies lie in this dispute?


  1. To me the answer to your HR question is a straight forward one – just tell us the facts, on both sides.

    However, we have spoken about this before – playing your negotiations out for the media is never going to give you the situation straight (there will be more spin than you’d get in a Monty Panesar over). Maybe, just maybe, if both sides could take a step back and see the potential long term damage that they were doing to the organisation that they both care about – then they would be more willing to explain the issues without point scoring.

    But then I guess facts don’t sell as many newspapers as sensationalism.

    I guess the Royal mail could always send out a letter to each household explaining the situation. I’m sure there’s a flaw in that plan somewhere – I’ll let you know when I’ve worked out what it is!!!


  2. EBTG:

    Thanks for the comments, as ever!

    To follow this discussion on the same lines, I'd be interested to know if the average UK citizen could explain why the strike has now been - at least temporarily - called off!