Why 'modernise'?

Roy Mayall

The Royal Mail is instituting a massive restructuring of the service. Rounds are being altered, delivery methods changed, new technology introduced, bikes scrapped, hours extended, delivery offices closed, all in the name of something they call ‘modernisation’. In practice it means that people are getting their post later in the day; there is an increasing casualisation of the work force as staff are moved around more and the traditional relationship between a postal worker and his round is being broken; office closures mean that people have to travel further to pick up undelivered packages; the move from bikes to walking with trolleys and the huge increase in the workload means that postal workers are left aching and exhausted after a day’s work; extensive use of vans means more pollution.

You have to wonder why they’re doing it. Conspiracy theorists among the staff have their opinions. My friend Jerry says: ‘I’m comparing it to Chelsea football club in the 1980s when it was run into the ground and you had some guy come along and bought it for a pound. I’m thinking, is that what they’re trying to do? Are they trying to rip the job apart so badly that they can go up to someone and say, well look, we’ve done everything, we’ve invested billions into machinery, we’ve done this, we’ve done that, we just can’t make a profit.’ In other words, are they preparing the industry for privatisation by running it down, in order to devalue it and make it cheaper for a private investor? Are the current management already acting on behalf of the future owners?

Another possible reason might be the way that these changes embed the Royal Mail with other corporations. It only takes one man working part time from a small workshop in every office to maintain our bikes. But the vans that are due to be rolled out to replace them – thousands of which are already sitting in a field outside Bristol – will require an ongoing relationship with the company that sold them in order to keep them on the road. The new walk-sequencing machines are made by Solystic, a subsidiary of Northrop Grumman, which describes itself as ‘a leading global security company whose 120,000 employees provide innovative systems, products, and solutions in aerospace, electronics, information systems, shipbuilding and technical services to government and commercial customers worldwide.’ It’s a defence contractor, in other words, so the Royal Mail is now tied in with the defence industry.

But there is another possibility, to do with the standardisation of the job. The new system depends on a computer programme called Pegasus Geo-Route. It decides that every delivery will take precisely six seconds, and that knocking on a door to hand over a packet or to get a signature will take precisely one minute. It measures the precise distance of every walk, up and down every garden path, to every door. It tells the postal worker exactly how fast he is supposed to be walking and therefore how long each round is supposed to take.

The joy of being a postal worker is that once out of the office and on your round you are free. No one is looking over your shoulder telling you how you are supposed to be working. With Pegasus Geo-Route, management will be sitting on our shoulders virtually and watching how we work. If you ask me, what they really mean by ‘modernisation’ is control.


  • 7 February 2011 at 8:53pm
    liz says:
    The real reason behind this so-called modernisation is not to make the Post Office more "modern" or, God forbid, more efficient, but to give a raison d'etre for all the other useless, parasitical companies on the lookout for customers. The salesmen for this "Pegasus Geo-Route" must really know their stuff if they can get a national concern to adopt it - either that or they've got influential friends in high places.

    Forgive me for injecting an anachronistic comment here, but sometimes a historical comparison puts things into perspective. In the days before the invention of the internal combustion engine, the telephone, and e-mail, the post office managed to provide twelve daily deliveries in the London area (c.1800, though I'm not entirely sure about the date). How could they manage it then, when today we're struggling with just one? Sometimes too much 'modern' just mucks things up more.

    • 7 February 2011 at 11:06pm
      Roy Mayall says: @ liz
      I think Pegasus Geo-Route is an internal Royal Mail system rather than anything which is being sold. But being "modern" just seems to mean cutting the work-force out of any decision making process whatsoever. The Royal Mail was much more efficient (and more profitable) when there were two deliveries a day, two and a half hour rounds, and the work-force actually felt proud to be part of the company. Those days are long-gone, of course, swept away in the unstoppable tide of "liberalisation" and "modernisation" and all the other euphemisms for increased exploitation of our time and our labour.

  • 7 February 2011 at 10:02pm
    A.J.P. Crown says:
    It’s a defence contractor, in other words, so the Royal Mail is now tied in with the defence industry.

    It's better that they make Postman Pat vans than bombers. I'm sorry the GPO's done away with you're bikes, though.

    • 7 February 2011 at 10:22pm
      aisia says: @ A.J.P. Crown
      Well, it would be better if they weren't going to plough the profits into more efficient bombers.

    • 7 February 2011 at 10:34pm
      Roy Mayall says: @ aisia
      No it's not the vans, it's the walk-sequencing machines, and it doesn't stop them making bombers as well.

    • 8 February 2011 at 9:55am
      A.J.P. Crown says: @ Roy Mayall
      Not if they've got contracts, but I thought it's nice to reward them for seeking business elsewhere. If you specialise in making WMDs then you're going to want to make more WMDs, but maybe there's more money to be made selling walk-sequencing machines. I'm no expert, though.

    • 8 February 2011 at 2:08pm
      Roy Mayall says: @ A.J.P. Crown
      I'm not sure if walk-sequencing machines might not be some high-tech protoyype for WMDs.

    • 8 February 2011 at 7:18pm
      A.J.P. Crown says: @ Roy Mayall
      Yeah, you're probably right, it's the thin end of the wedge. Walk Sequencing of Mass Destruction.

    • 8 February 2011 at 7:24pm
      A.J.P. Crown says: @ Roy Mayall
      Has there been any word about where and when they're going to sell the bikes?

    • 9 February 2011 at 3:04pm
      Roy Mayall says: @ A.J.P. Crown
      The bikes are being given away, not sure to whom exactly. I'll try to find out.

  • 8 February 2011 at 5:05am
    Berchmans says:
    THis is a test It is 5 am about to start. Its freezing however we will cope.

    Thank you for this Roy. I wish you well.

    • 8 February 2011 at 2:06pm
      Roy Mayall says: @ Berchmans
      Nice to see you here Berchmans. Hope you had a good day.

  • 8 February 2011 at 11:50am
    Joe Morison says:
    It sounds to me as if they may be planning to replace you with automata, or perhaps that's what they're planning to turn you into.

    • 8 February 2011 at 2:07pm
      Roy Mayall says: @ Joe Morison
      I certainly feel like one at times.

  • 8 February 2011 at 3:26pm
    Enfrance says:
    Anyone who has worked for RM will know that 'modernisation' is one of the many euphemisms used by management to 'name' any form of change while all the staff would call it reinventing the wheel. Some change was necessary like abandoning the railway in the 80's, due to the terrible service and mechanisation was actually welcomed by most staff as it recreated some better paid posts for uniform people.

    But you would have thought the experience of putting all the eggs in one basket with no slack would have been learned. Seq machines break down just like ASM's and OCR's, the effect of which ripples thought the service and often results in total failure and has already resulted in a far less attractive delivery schedule. Less attractive for the customer I mean.

    As for Vince's lies about traffic levels it means that any organisation taking over the business will soon find that they have got a pig in a poke if they aren't aware of what really happens in practice rather than the nonsense spouted by politicians.

    Here in France, rather than destroy the bikes, they are being enhanced and by the look of them are probably both safe and efficient despite heavy loads but with bigger brakes and sturdier frames. Some are even electric motor assisted! However, even La Poste is in for the dreaded privatisation or 'modernisation'!

    • 9 February 2011 at 3:10pm
      Roy Mayall says: @ Enfrance
      Let me have one of those electric bikes!

  • 8 February 2011 at 5:11pm
    Geoff Roberts says:
    Just wait until they start trashing the NHS. In my view neo-liberalism is market anarchy, with the politicians selling off the country's assets and then finding themselves a job as PR Director for Guess Who. At you last post, I mentioned meeting our postman at four p.m., sobbing with anger after his bike had tipped into the snow, loaded as it was with sales materials for all the electronic trash you ever need. His route had been doubled in three years, he told me.

    • 9 February 2011 at 3:08pm
      Roy Mayall says: @ Geoff Roberts
      The same thing is happening here. The new delivery methods involve a massive increase in the workload. Trouble is the union are complicit in this, as they've been co-opted into the process. Lots of posties are in despair. We are seeing the sad decline of a once-great service, and it has nothing to do with emails and texts as the Royal Mail claims. It's that dreaded neo-liberalism thing again.

  • 8 February 2011 at 5:30pm
    Enfrance says:
    In the 80's and 90's there was an agreement between the CWU and RM which introduced work study in order to effect savings in which the staff shared. It produced a very good bonus scheme which generally had the approval of staff mostly because they were involved in its planning.

    Now Pegasus is used without any staff input it seems a recipe for disaster. Mind you, motivation and incentive are not words many RM managers have ever known about.

    We complained endlessly during my 27 years in the job - I would be speechless now which is unusual for me ;)

    • 10 February 2011 at 1:10pm
      ma ilworker says: @ Enfrance
      Does anyone know where Pegasus came from?

      Canada I believe, it helped the councils there to establish a working route to empty dustbins!!!

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