Postman Pat is not to be Sneezed at: Lack of PPE endangers Posties

May 4, 2020

2 min read

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What's going on here?

Royal Mail staff have staged walkouts at sorting offices across the UK over concerns that the business is neglecting to protect them from coronavirus.

What does this mean?

The Communication Workers Union (CWU), which represents postal workers, estimates that half of Royal Mail sorting offices have insufficient supplies of PPE and hand sanitiser. Workers have expressed that social distancing is “almost impossible” in cramped depots, where many are working shoulder-to-shoulder. The CWU has suggested that Royal Mail enables social distancing by reducing the number of staff working each shift, or even that it closes some sites until they have been made safer. However, with the number of online orders soaring, many workers are needed to meet demand.

The CWU has accused Royal Mail of prioritising shareholder value over staff safety. It argues that, during the pandemic, Royal Mail should be operating as a “vital national service” rather than a commercial venture. Royal Mail has disputed the union’s comments. It insists that it takes “the health and safety of its colleagues, its customers and its local communities very seriously”.

What's the big picture effect?

This story highlights the importance of the company director’s duty to balance the interests of shareholders with those of other stakeholders, notably staff and the wider community. This can be a difficult balance to strike, as decisions made in the interests of other stakeholders tend to increase costs and consequently reduce profits.

Postal workers touch thousands of letters each day. These letters come into contact with thousands of other letters, which are then distributed to thousands of households. It is estimated that coronavirus can live on surfaces for up to several days. Therefore, not only are postal workers high-risk for contracting the virus, but they are likely to spread it much further than the average carrier of the virus. This means that Royal Mail’s unsafe working conditions could represent a significant threat to public health. However, actions that the business could take to rectify the issue, such as investing in PPE and hand sanitiser or enabling social distancing by reducing staff numbers or closing depots, would be likely to reduce profits, either by increasing costs or limiting output.

We must hope that the duty to consider the interests of all stakeholders, combined with the potential risk of reduced job satisfaction, reputational damage and disruption caused by staff walkouts if it doesn’t, will push Royal Mail to improve staff safety. This will not only protect its workers and local communities, but will also support a swifter recovery for the country as a whole.

Report written by Isobel Deane

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