Royal Mail’s sickness absence rate almost double 2018 level

Postal workers say recent revision in working practices has added to difficulties facing service

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Last modified on Mon 13 Dec 2021 11.45 EST

Royal Mail has said it is facing high levels of sickness that mean almost double the number of employees are absent than in 2018, before Covid-19 was identified.

The postal service said deliveries were operating as normal across most of the country but that a small number of local offices may not be able to deliver six days a week at present. The Royal Mail online service update identified 21 offices out of 1,200 that were experiencing delays.

A spokesperson said the difficulties related “to local issues such as Covid-related self-isolation, high levels of sick absence, resourcing or other local factors”.

They said “targeted support” was being offered to those offices affected in order to restore the service.

Postal workers said a revision in working practices introduced in recent weeks had only added to difficulties caused by absences and claimed there were shortages of temporary staff to help with Christmas deliveries.

One with close knowledge of Royal Mail’s operations told the BBC, which first reported the staff shortage issues, that the situation at the service was “horrific” owing to sickness and increased demand in the run-up to Christmas. The source claimed: “It’s much worse than a normal Christmas.”

One postal worker wrote on the Facebook page of the Communication Workers Union (CWU): “Lots of let down customers and we will be delivering Christmas cards and presents in January again”.

Terry Pullinger, the CWU’s deputy general secretary (postal), blamed “failings of systems, data [and] management capability” for some of the problems.

In an open letter published by the union, Pullinger wrote: “Trying to maintain a great public service throughout the pandemic has been incredibly difficult for everybody, especially while deploying major changes and considering the great annual challenge of the Christmas period pressure.”

He said the union was working with management to “respond locally and at pace, in order to tackle the current challenges”.

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