Rico Back, who ran Royal Mail between 2018 and 2020, has called the handling of recent industrial action “toxic”, while stressing the postal giant had time during the pandemic to equip its workers for change.
Back told The Sunday Times that Royal Mail’s chief executive lacked experience and had mishandled talks with the Communication Workers Union (CWU), which led to strikes continuing in the run up to the peak period of Black Friday and Christmas.
He added that the board “wasted time” and had “not executed properly” in negotiations with the CWU, while Royal Mail had the opportunity during Covid to prepare its staff for changes to working practices.
He explained: “Posties understand the need to change but it needs to be done in a social, friendly way. The board missed this opportunity and right now are on a more confrontational path, which is not necessary. Also, the chief executive has never run a big company and does not have knowledge of logistics. Both together is a toxic mixture.”
Furthermore, he questioned Royal Mail’s decision to return £400m to shareholders via a special dividend and share buyback in late 2021, after suspending payouts during Covid. He said the money should have been used to help ease the shift away from letters.
“I think if they had gone to the shareholders, they would have understood it,” said Back. “But they didn’t even try … They are back to square one now, they are back to the pre-Covid period, they are back to the start of the strategy.”
Industrial action by CWU members began in August with posties walking out for a “dignified, proper pay rise”. There was a further 19 days of strikes covering Black Friday, Cyber Monday and the general run-up to Christmas, as they continued to dispute pay and terms.
In early December, Royal Mail published an open letter featuring its “best and final offer”. This included a pay rise of up to 9% over 18 months in exchange for changes to working hours and Sunday working, as part of a shift towards parcel deliveries.
There are currently no Royal Mail strike days announced for January, or later in 2023, with Royal Mail declining to comment on Back’s interview.