Andy, a postman from Suffolk, has come home soaked through after his rainy shifts this week, but he can’t put his heating on.
It’s why after 20 years in the job he’s joining fellow postal workers taking part in strike action this winter, due to a long-running dispute over pay and poor working conditions.
“With strikes, each day we’re out we lose around £100 so it impacts on your life,” Andy, who wished to remain anonymous, tells HuffPost UK.
“I’ve not put heating on for over a week because I’m on a reduced budget, which is not pleasant when you get home and are soaking wet and cold.
“I buy frozen food which is cheaper and often needs microwaving rather than oven – again because I’m down on wages and energy prices are exorbitant. I had a heart attack in May, so should be eating heart-healthy, but it’s a lot more expensive.”
The Communication Workers Union (CWU), which has organised the strikes, has organised yet more dates for industrial action, after talks with the Royal Mail to avoid further walk-outs failed.
The union said its 115,000 members will strike in the run-up to Christmas, on December 9, 11, 14, 15, 23 and 24. This is in addition to strike dates around Black Friday and Cyber Monday (November 24, 25 and 30, and December 1), which happened last month.
The strikes are expected to cause major disruption to the delivery of goods during the busiest period of the year. Postal workers say they have no choice.
Andy says he works from 6.40am to around 2pm each day, manually sorting trays of post into their relevant packages, delivering letters and packages to up to 700 houses per day in all weathers, collecting parcels when customers have requested them, and driving the van to complete his loop.
“Sometimes you take a 20 minute break, but mostly not or you won’t get finished,” he says.
But some posties are working overtime to make ends meet. According to Indeed, the average Royal Mail delivery person earns £10.96 per hour while the average delivery driver earns £12.52 per hour.
Steve*, who works in the RH postcode area (a group of twenty postcode districts in South East England) starts work just after 5.30am to clock up an hour of overtime before preparing for his usual round.
Like Andy, his morning loop is done by 2pm, but he then has a 90-minute break before working the collection shift on overtime. “I get home at about 7pm, absolutely shattered,” he says.
Traffic in the area is bad and not factored in, which contributes to the extremely long shifts. “I have to deliver to a hospital, that alone can take 20 minutes to get to because of the queue for the carpark,” he explains.
Steve also says the vans are in need up repair – “most of them are over 10 years old and falling apart” – and that the sorting office is in “such a bad state, we all work in a fraction of the building and most of the sorting is done outside and in a marquee”.
“When I first started, over 20 years ago, the pay was great,” says Steve, who’s 56 and has been a postie for 23 years.
“But over the years the pay rises haven’t kept up with inflation and it’s now starting to impact on everything. Bills are getting harder to pay, having to buy less food and being extra careful with gas and electric. The car is going this week, it is a lease hire car, I will not be getting another yet. I’m happy if I get to Thursday and have £1 left in my pocket.”
Steve says he and his colleagues are “angry” and “frustrated” by what they say is a lack of investment in a vital service. Andy also points out the role of a postie extends far beyond delivering parcels.
“I’ve done this job for 20 years now and still have pride in being a postman, we’re a vital part of the community in an era where that has traded for convenience and 24/7 lifestyles,” he says.
“We care for our customers and want to continue to provide not only a service for delivery but to be able to be seen, often the only point of contact for the elderly, more vulnerable and isolated people that are overlooked because of profit driven society we swim in now.”
The chairman of the Royal Mail, Keith Williams, previously claimed the business is losing £1m per day. Chief executive Simon Thompson also claimed he’s “ready to talk about pay” but said there “needed to be an improvement in productivity”.
Commenting on the latest strike action, a Royal Mail spokesperson said in a statement: “Our preference is for an agreement with the CWU but the change we need is not optional.
“They should be focused on a resolution to this dispute for their members and the long-term health of the business, rather than damaging strike action.”