Disruptive Event in respect of higher staff absence in July 2022

In our communication to you dated 22 July 2022, in which we updated you on Disruptive Events, we explained that “the [Covid] pandemic is not over” and advised you that “if its impact causes us further issues, we will let you know as soon as we reasonably can. Due to the time it takes to gather, review and analyse the relevant data and its impact on the business, we may not be able to notify you until after the date upon which the impact was felt by our business.”

We have now concluded our assessment of trends in Royal Mail staff absence data, and have identified that in weeks commencing 4 July, 11 July and 18 July 2022 (Affected Weeks), absences materially spiked above pre-Covid levels. During July, as was reported across the news, Covid-19 infection rates across the UK increased[1].  During the Affected Weeks, sick absence across our entire workforce, and specifically for staff in operational roles, increased to levels last seen between March 2020 and April 2022 (i.e. when Royal Mail staff absence levels were being impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic).

This increase in absences, which constitutes a Disruptive Event, impacted Royal Mail’s ability to deliver all Mailing Items for you in line with the timescales set out under the Access Letters Contract (ALC) and Wholesale Parcels Contract (WPC).  To that end, all Mailing Items which were in any part of our network between 4 July 2022 and 23 July 2022 will be excluded from the calculation of our performance against the Service Standard at the end of the financial year.

As has previously been communicated to you, for Royal Mail, every 1% of absence equates to approximately 1,300 fewer members of staff, who are available to sort mail in Mail Centres, drive vans to distribute mail to Delivery Offices, or carry out walks and daily duties to deliver mail to households and businesses. If absence levels reach 8% this means approximately 10,400 employees are unable to work.

You will be aware that since 22 July 2022 we have also notified you of Disruptive Events relating to extreme hot weather and industrial action.

Industrial action

In relation to the industrial action, the letter sent on 18 August 2022 referred to strikes planned on Friday 26 August, Wednesday 31 August, Thursday 8 September and Friday 9 September.  The industrial action remains ongoing. Strikes were held on the aforementioned dates and also on Friday 30 September, Saturday 1 October and Thursday 13 October 2022.

The Communication Workers Union (CWU) has called on its members who collect, sort and deliver parcels and letters to take further strike action. The CWU are required to provide Royal Mail with a minimum of 14 days’ formal notification before taking strike action and we have received this formal notification from the CWU for Thursday 20 October and Tuesday 25 October 2022.  

All of this action constitutes a Disruptive Event under the ALC and WPC and Royal Mail continues to rely on the relief given to it under clauses 7.2 and 7.3 in respect of these Disruptive Events.

We will be writing to you in due course regarding the impact that the industrial action which has taken place so far has had on our contractual obligations.

[1] The Office of National Statistics’ official reported estimate of the percentage of the population testing positive for COVID-19 in UK