Royal Mail ‘dystopian’ tracking system ‘tells bosses when postmen stand still’

PHOTO:JEFF GILBERT 12th July 2022. Mount Pleasant, London, UKChief Executive of Royal Mail Simon Thompson - Jeff Gilbert
PHOTO:JEFF GILBERT 12th July 2022. Mount Pleasant, London, UKChief Executive of Royal Mail Simon Thompson - Jeff Gilbert

Royal Mail has been accused of using a “dystopian” tracking system that alerts managers when postmen stand still, as a row over the company’s use of technology grows.

Union chiefs say alerts are being sent by digital devices that postal workers are required to carry with them on their daily rounds.

The system is meant to help with directions but is also being used to record how long delivery workers remain stationary, according to the Communication Workers Union (CWU).

Workers who have rested or stopped to speak to members of the public had reported being summoned to their manager’s office to “explain any periods of inactivity”.

The CWU also claims that Simon Thompson, Royal Mail’s chief executive, personally shared analysis of the tracking data with staff to complain of “slow” walking speeds – despite his public claims that the company does not use any technology for that purpose.

Mr Thompson will be grilled on the subject for a second time in Parliament later this month after MPs accused him of giving “inaccurate testimony”.

In a letter to the business select committee, which took evidence from Mr Thompson last month, CWU general secretary Dave Ward said: “The CWU shares the concerns regarding Mr Thompson’s answers during the panel session on Royal Mail.

Royal Mail postal workers demonstrate in Parliament Square over pay, jobs and conditions.The union members came to London for the 'biggest strike demonstration this country has ever seen' in Parliament Square. Announcing the days in November The Communication Workers Union (CWU) said 'the livelihoods of postal workers' are at stake. The CWU says it still wants a negotiated settlement with the company. Further strike dates this month are 11, 14, 15, 23 and 24 Dec - JULIAN SIMMONDS

“We found his answers to be generally evasive and, at times, in direct conflict with Royal Mail’s policy and the practices being deployed in the workplace.”

At the heart of the tracking row is technology known as the “postal digital assistant”, which tells workers where to go on their rounds and digitally records the delivery of letters and parcels.

In his previous evidence to MPs, Mr Thompson denied the technology was meant to encourage postal workers to go faster or used to punish slow performance.

“To the point you are making about this device telling people to go more quickly, that is not something we do,” he said.

But Mr Ward said that claim flew in the face of what postal workers were experiencing on the ground.

He highlighted a post by Mr Thompson on an internal company website in July, which read: “Team- just in from the data science team- data from the last few months- PDA [postal digital assistant] actuals- less parcels = more outdoor hours = more overtime= slower walking pace. Any views on this?”

A CWU source on Thursday said the technology was “dystopian” and claimed Royal Mail bosses were “waging war” on the union’s members.

In a separate letter to the committee, Mr Thompson has told MPs he welcomes “the opportunity to discuss any points on which the committee has questions or concerns”.

Royal Mail remains at loggerheads with the union over pay and conditions. Bosses at the company claim Royal Mail is losing £1m a day and cannot survive without pushing forward a raft of changes to modernise the business.

The reformist push has enraged the union and its 100,000 members. The CWU has already held 18 days of strike action.

A Royal Mail spokesperson said: “Customers increasingly expect estimated times for their deliveries and confirmation when an item has been delivered.

“Our postal digital assistants (PDAs) allow Royal Mail to provide real-time delivery information to our customers by predicting the time that a postal route will take on any given day. This allows customers to plan ahead or redirect their parcel if they are not going to be in.

“We do not use our PDAs for real-time tracking of our people's movements, or to communicate with them through their PDAs on their real-time performance.”