Royal Mail is engaging employees and successfully implementing significant changes by working with its trade unions.
Royal Mail’s Agenda for Growth initiative is an ambitious long-term business strategy between chief executives at Royal Mail Group, the Trades Unions Congress (TUC) and Communication Workers Union (CWU).
Based around the principle of educating and training 8,000 of its members, it focused on employee engagement, negotiating pension changes through policy committees, enhancing communication and mediation between senior executives through growth forums, and delivering cultural changes through a re-written company charter.
First proposed in early 2013, detailed negotiations over the initiative took place in late autumn of 2013 with an agreement finally reached in the early part of 2014.
Following its launch, 500 directors, delivery sector managers, plant managers and representatives from both CWU and Unite took part in different sessions across the country. One ongoing aim was to offer more training to line managers.
Now a year into its operation, one of the latest developments has been introducing a new agreement regarding how discipline procedures are conducted.
This involves placing more emphasis on informal resolution, humanising the language used in discipline issues, and offering training designed to emphasise a move away from punitive measures to focusing more on supporting the correction.
"Agenda for Growth has delivered a degree of industrial stability which was unprecedented in the business in the last 20 years not just in terms of national level flash points but also local disputes in what is a high-pressure business," explained Communication Workers Union national officer Ray Ellis.
"One of the key reasons for the initiative's success was the main negotiators on both sides developed a degree of mutual trust in terms of the general direction of travel and willingness to embrace the initiative's underlying concepts.
"A personal commitment from senior people was an important component of keeping both parties on track in terms of delivering the agreement.
"It is recognition of the changed circumstances in which Royal Mail Group operates, not so much as a result of privatisation, but as a result of the liberalisation of the postal market and the creation of competitive companies.
As part of this agreement, both Royal Mail and the unions had to take account of the new environment with the continued structural decline in the letters business and expansion in the small parcels market. Since the parcels market had always been open to competition, the aim for Royal Mail was to underpin its universal service obligation by competing more effectively in this area.
Harmonious and constructive
Ellis says this drive included a requirement for industrial relations with employees to be dealt with in a more harmonious and constructive way than in the past.
"The view was that employees needed to be on side, and there was recognition that the CWU was an organic part of Royal Mail," he said.
"If you were going to achieve change in Royal Mail, the management took the view that they needed to have the CWU on board. The union was asked for the sort of changes that were necessary because of the underpinning guarantees around terms and conditions and job security that are in Agenda for Growth.
"If you're going to succeed in a competitive market then you need an engaged workforce and the agreement was mutually beneficial. It got the CWU's buy-in, in terms of making Royal Mail Group more able to respond in the competitive area of its market, and it underpinned assurances to our members around their job security and elements of the employment package, which in turn lifted employee confidence."
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