HL Deb 08 January 2004 vol 657 cc249-51

11.14 a.m.

Lord Hoyle asked Her Majesty's Government:

What consultations took place between Royal Mail and the relevant trade unions before the reduction in managers was announced, which is to take place by March 2004.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville)

My Lords, the decision on whether to reduce the number of managers in Royal Mail is an operational matter for the board of the company. The proposed reduction in managerial jobs will be part of the 30,000 redundancies announced at the start of the company's three-year renewal plan in 2002. Royal Mail is complying, and will continue to comply fully, with its obligations under Section 188 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 as regards consultation with the unions.

Lord Hoyle

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Does he agree that for the Amicus communications association to be informed on 21 November that there would be a further review of managers, followed on 2 December with a verbal statement and on 11 December by a letter saying that there would be 3,000 redundancies in the region, does not comply with Section 188 and is not consultation? It is obvious that the partnership with Royal Mail is not working, so what will he do about it? May I suggest that he cuts the substantial funding from the DTI partnership fund to Royal Mail until the managers agree to introduce a genuine partnership with trade unions?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, the official announcement that there would be an overall reduction in managers' jobs of 3,000 was made on 12 December. It was not then possible to have the detailed consultations required under Section 188 of the Act, because obviously, at that point, one does not have the information necessary for the consultation under that Act, which has to be undertaken on a specific location and job basis. As that information has become available, it has been used to have those consultations, so some consultations have taken place already. The Act is being complied with in a proper way.

As for the partnership, I think that I am right in saying that it was the unions that withdrew from the partnership arrangements. It would be highly desirable for the two sides to come together again to drive forward the agenda.

Lord Clarke of Hampstead

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the union that represents the largest number of people employed by Royal Mail was not consulted in any way on the decision to axe 3,000 managerial jobs? That decision will present very serious problems for staff below managerial level as they strive to maintain an efficient service. Will he address the problem of the lack of consultation with those people? I ought to declare an interest as a former postman, and a member of my union which has not been consulted at all on the issue.

Further, does my noble friend agree that such shabby treatment of loyal workers is not conducive to the improvement in industrial relations that everyone connected to the Post Office, especially on the industrial side, is trying to ensure? Will he make arrangements to see that the gaps created by the sackings or redundancies will be managed properly, so that the public service can be maintained properly?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, it has to be the job of Royal Mail's management itself to take decisions about balancing operational requirements against the needs of having more managers. No meaningful discussions can take place on that until one has a specific list of jobs by particular areas. Until that is made, it is not possible to have serious operational discussions. As the information comes through, consultations are taking place. However, I totally agree that we must do everything that we can to encourage better industrial relations and a more partnership-based approach in Royal Mail.

Lord Razzall

My Lords, does the Minister accept that this Question, and a number of other Questions that noble Lords have asked in recent months, demonstrate the seriously unsatisfactory nature of the relationship between the Government and the Post Office, particularly Royal Mail? Does he not accept that it is not a satisfactory way to carry on for the Government to claim the credit whenever anything goes well with Royal Mail but, when it goes badly or there is a problem, for him to say that it is an operational matter for the management of Royal Mail?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, a more appropriate response would be for the noble Lord, having constantly asked the Government to give commercial freedom to the Post Office, not to ask the Government to intervene when it comes to issues of commercial freedom.

Baroness Wilcox

My Lords, it is a difficult time for Royal Mail, and a very difficult time for the unions. It is a big organisation and one for which I and many noble Lords have great affection, so it is very hard to see the organisation going through such a difficult time. I speak almost in sympathy with the Minister. Given that the Government are the major shareholder in the company, can he reassure us that it is being run properly and in a right and timely fashion?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, without giving an answer that covers the entire range of activities of the Royal Mail, and having considered this particular instance, it was regrettable that the Royal Mail did not tell the unions that it would make an announcement on a particular day; and it has already apologised for that. However, in every other way the matter has been handled perfectly properly.

Lord Hoyle

My Lords, why were the 3,000 redundancies not discussed with the unions? As the Royal Mail knew there would he 3,000, it must have known where they were to occur. That shows, once again, the deplorable state of industrial relations at the Post Office. I ask again, what is the Minister going to do about it?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, there were informal discussions between the management and the unions on a general basis before the announcement. I repeat, it is extremely difficult to have meaningful discussions about the impact of particular job losses until one has a firm view of what the job losses are and where they will take place. That information was not available at the time of the announcement on 12 December.