3.2 Postal workers in the UK

Postal workers in the UK have traditionally worked on a basis whereby they have considerable discretion over their labour time. They determine when precisely letters are delivered to individual houses, and how quickly they work. This has allowed them to have longer breaks in return for rapid working. In turn, postal workers are expected to cope with seasonal and unexpected fluctuations in the volume of post to be delivered, again within broad parameters. This informal agreement – only partially defined in the employment contract – makes for speedy and reliable postal deliveries, but has always been the bane of consultants and managers seeking to ‘modernize’ the postal service. Modernization, in these terms, would imply bringing work and employment relations closer to those encountered in jobs with similar skill levels elsewhere in the economy. Understandably, postal workers have interpreted such interventions as challenging or undermining the existing employment contract and have resisted them, a good example being the 2010 Royal Mail dispute.

Source: author


1. Postal workers appear to have traditionally had quite a lot of discretion in how they choose to deliver mail. How did this help the delivery of post?

2. What, do you think, are the costs associated with reducing the discretion available to workers?