Postal workers can drive innovation

Philip Jennings, director of Uni Global Union, explains why his organization, which brings together 1,000 unions in 150 countries, is focusing on innovation in the postal business.

Photo: Uni Global Union

UPU: What is Uni Global Union?

Philip Jennings: Our business is to build trade unions and bring them together to improve the working conditions of our members and above all to put a human face on the unacceptable side of globalisation that most workers are experiencing these days.

What side of globalisation is the postal sector seeing?

The postal sector is one of the first sectors of the economy to globalize in terms of communications between peoples across national borders. Postal services have this wonderful ethic to which we are very attached to: the universal service at an affordable price.

We think the postal sector is a natural monopoly in terms of what it is trying to do and we have seen this great value perverted by an ideological approach to globalisation.

We are in fighting mode and think that postal services are worth fighting for.

What can employees do in the face of 'negative ideology'?

We see a new world out there for the Post and logistics. What we have to do as unions is to make sure we have an organized workers’ voice in the traditional postal network and in the new competitors.

We think it is important for incumbent operators that we have a union voice in the competitors. So, our message to the employees in the new carriers is: get organized. What we find are courageous people prepared to make a stand and join a union but that they are not able to join. 

In terms of employees, the union is a tremendous utility and offers added value as it is an important place where they can take their concerns. It will be a place where they will be inspired and where there will be a place to innovate.

Even though there are ideological changes in the world, there are still a sufficient number out there that want to see a world with a human face of globalisation, which is still socially responsible.

Given market forces and the state of flux the business world has found itself in the last few years, it has been argued that the Posts and the concept of a universal service are relics of an old style of doing business.

No way! We, as a trade union movement, are attached to universal values of solidarity, social justice, accountability and giving people opportunities.

And we are there to defend those basic values and to show that we have an organisation on the ground.

In terms of postal services, the need for access to the universal service at an affordable price is paramount and that basic goal is not diminished because we have this great technological revolution taking place.

Unions deliver innovation in Posts. Whereas in the past, we would have looked at the legal and delivery aspects and all the mechanics of providing a postal service, we realize now that there is a massive hole in the discussion.

There are not enough people talking up the postal service and about new innovations that could be taking place.

We live in a new age, that’s quite clear, so why can’t we innovate in the provision of postal services and talk it up?

How far does Uni Global Union’s role go in putting innovation on the table?

You often hear that the trade union movement is often looking backwards but that is not in our brief. Our job is to look forward.

We have a social responsibility to our members and we are a voice of change but in a constructive sense, such as how we can build on what we have instead of getting into a death spiral.

The ‘innovations’ we [have seen so far] are driven ideologically by a low-cost model – to be competitively uniquely on price terms and to let someone else innovate – shattering the business model the Post has developed.

The UPU should be leading the charge for innovation and we are going to be the voice for those innovations.

Unfortunately, we hear that collective agreements are passé, as are decent working conditions, a fair wage, decent hours and pension, that these can no longer fit in the new innovative world in postal services. Wrong! Want to de-motivate your workforce and get negative thinking in your management? We don’t like it.

How do your unions react when you speak about innovation?

I have been struck by our unions’ enthusiasm. They are in the trenches, fighting for the integrity of their sector. They are in a scrap with their governments about changing ownership… it is very difficult to think when you’re in the trenches; as soon as you put your head up, there is a danger you get shot.

Ask a postman what additional services he could provide. He has many ideas. Just ask. We have said to our unions: innovation in Posts has to be as important as wages, hours of work, pensions and so on.

Uni Global Union is a member of the UPU's Consultative Committee. What is this relationship like?

I have to stress that this is a unique arrangement: there is no other UN agency in the world that enables dialogue among operators, the postal workers and unions.

On where we can build our relationship… not in a carping way, not in the ‘it’s that man from the union again’. We want a relationship that is dynamic and innovative where we have a seat at the table.


Full interview