‘You Can Take the Time from Your Break’

Roy Mayall · A Culture of Mutual Interest

There’s a Tannoy system in our office. It’s very rarely used. Most people just shout when they want to get our attention. The people with the loudest voices tend to gravitate towards the jobs where the most shouting is required.

Pretty well the only person who uses the Tannoy is the manager. He doesn’t have a very loud voice and doesn’t play a significant role in the daily life of the office. Usually he is hiding behind his computer in his little office, keeping out of everyone’s way. So when the speakers crackle, and an uncomfortable voice starts to mumble into the microphone, we always know it’s the manager, about to announce something out of the ordinary. ‘Hello everybody. Can everyone hear me out there?’

Peals of laughter from the shop floor. He has the air of a secondary school teacher addressing a class of hyperactive teenagers.

‘OK, this is just to say that your union rep is here to talk to you about the agreement, and that if you want to meet him in the recreation room you can take the time from your break.’

There’s a sudden eruption of noise. Pardon? Did he say we were to take the time from our break? This is the most important agreement between the Royal Mail and its staff for the last ten years. It contains the blueprint for our future for the next three years at least. It’s written in such dense and convoluted language that hardly anyone has a clear idea of what it’s supposed to mean. We have our union rep here to explain it to us. And they want us to go without our lunch, to pay for this in our own time, and to squeeze a multitude of questions from up to fifty delivery staff into the 20 minutes that are available to us in our break time.

That’s the Royal Mail for you: cheapskate and penny pinching on every level. The company we work for can’t even afford to allow us to take a little time to ask some of the questions and to get some of the answers that will help us to make an informed decision about our future.

The agreement itself states that it intends to foster a ‘culture of mutual interest between managers, union and employees’, so it doesn’t bode well for the future that, even before the agreement is implemented, the manager’s need to squeeze every minute out of our working day takes precedence over our need to know what is going on.

Needless to say, no one went to the recreation room. Most of our questions had already been answered by that announcement.


  • 7 April 2010 at 5:59pm
    pgrundy says:
    Is that legal? Here in the U.S. there are laws about what employers can and can't do in a union shop, although most of the unions are busted up now so it's not like it matters. I don't even know how you go about organizing in this environment, but then I hear stories like this one and I think, what's the point? Unions don't seem to be able to protect workers like they once could. The unions left here have very little bargaining power. It's depressing.

    I just heard on the radio that GM is negotiating for a starting auto worker wage of $10-$12 per hour now. That's 6.60 to 7.92 pounds sterling. I don't know about there, but here, that's terrible money, and those guys don't work all year, especially at first. It takes years to build up enough seniority to be steadily employed. It's getting the the point where people can't afford to work--like uh, I need a job but I can't afford to get myself to a job and keep the job. It's not cost effective. Craziness!

  • 7 April 2010 at 6:34pm
    Roy Mayall says:
    Yes it's legal. We're not allowed to have union meetings on works premises. When the rep calls a meeting we have to go outside the works gates and take the time from our break. I this case he was being kind to us in allowing us to have the meeting in the recreation room. It's strange because it's a joint agreement, so you'd think that the Royal Mail would be keen to promote it. Not so it seems.

    On wages here in the UK, well the minumum wage (and that means minimum) is about £6 an hour. £6.60- £7.90 sounds about average. Back in the day, however, car workers would have expected a much more than average wage. I guess they have to keep wages low in order to pay all those banker's bonus'....

  • 7 April 2010 at 9:43pm
    Roy Mayall says:
    Barbara Anne Marshall
    Re minimum wage conversation after the blog, see below
    March 26 2010 - Changes to national minimum wage rates will take effect from October 1 2010:

    The adult (aged 21 and over) minimum wage rate will increase from £5.80 to £5.93 an hour
    The Youth Development Rate (18-20 year olds) will rise from £4.83 to £4.92 an hour ... See more
    The minimum wage for 16-17 year olds will increase from £3.57 to £3.64 an hour

    My daughter (aged 21) has just said, "That would be great if i could even get a job"

  • 8 April 2010 at 12:19pm
    pgrundy says:
    Your daughter's perspective is the dominant one here. I guess it hardly matter what the wages are, as there are no jobs to be had anyway. Meanwhile, Wall Street is doing very well again. How nice for them.

    I grew up during the one little window when working people could earn a living, but that era didn't last and it looks like it won't be coming back any time soon. Maybe the next President will start transporting us back to Britain for petty crimes.