The CWU (Communication Workers’ Union) represents members in Royal Mail (including Parcelforce), Post Office Ltd, BT, Virgin Media and many of the staff employed in call centres and shops for mobile telephone companies like O2, EE, Vodaphone and TalkTalk. Our members are in all of the grades and levels within these companies up to line managerial levels so as you can see we represent the majority of the workers who provide the services of these companies to the Scottish and UK public.
It is becoming increasingly apparent that the regulatory regime run by Ofcom under which our two main employers (Royal Mail and BT) operate is neither serving the companies nor the users of the services provided by the companies appropriately or correctly. Ofcom as a regulator is continually interfering with the operations of these companies by setting goals and targets that are unachievable without seriously and deleteriously impacting upon the services provided by the companies.
The regulation laid down for Royal Mail to operate under requires access to the mail system for ‘competitor’ companies at prices and conditions that are never and will never be made available to the general public or even to SMEs that could use the mail service to grow their businesses greatly and thus increase employment (and tax take) across the whole spectrum of work and industry.
The regulator frequently criticises and tries to interfere with the agreements on terms and conditions reached by the CWU on behalf of its membership across the UK, while doing nothing to deal with the terms and conditions provided (or, in many cases not provided) by competitor companies whether in the letters or parcels markets.
The very same regulator oversees the telecoms industry and spends much of its time criticising and interfering in the operations of BT as the largest telecom service provider in the UK. In fact, the latest interference by Ofcom in the operation of BT is to demand that BT remove its wholly owned subsidiary company, Openreach (which provides, maintains and operates the telephone and broadband network), from the overall BT Group and making it a separate company altogether. This is the latest example of Ofcom’s failure to carry out the basic tenets of its existence which is to oversee the proper provision of services to the population of the UK and to ensure that those services are provided at an affordable and equitable level for its users and consumers.
From beginning as being a regulator set out by the UK parliament to oversee the postal and telecommunications industries, it has now become an organisation that focuses in on only one or two of the primary reasons laid out in the terms for its operation by the UK parliament. One of these is that Ofcom continues to ‘home’ in on is the duty to promote and stimulate competition within those industries in the neo-liberal belief that competition always leads to lowered prices and better and increased levels of provision across the market.
This worship of the market, much loved by the Conservative party and the right wing press and media of the UK, of course almost always leads to worsened service provision and increased prices for the consumer as companies which had previously been natural publicly owned utility service providers have been privatised and have now become private utilities who primarily only answer to shareholders and investors – who have no interest in anything other than financial gain from these companies who still have to provide a public service. The pressure within these companies to provide shareholder dividends naturally leads to severe attacks on the terms and conditions of those who work within the companies and this, of course, generally leads to a worsening of the service provided to the public as the users of those services.
The lessons we need to learn from all this is that if we cannot renationalise these companies in the near future then we have to rework the terms of operation and objectives of the regulators like Ofcom to ensure that their primary responsibilities reflect the need to provide continuity of service to the service users and that they are in position to defend those services not to attack them and the companies that provide them.
John Brown is the Scottish Regional Secretary of the CWU union