Hundreds of divisional, branch and area reps gathered in Bristol today to hear full details of the negotiators’ agreement reached between CWU leaders and Royal Mail senior management. The deal – Business Recovery, Transformation & Growth – covers the pay and change issues at the root of the long-running industrial dispute that began last year and saw 18 days of strike action across the business.

The event – held in the concourse of Bristol City Football Club’s Ashton Gate Stadium – was opened by general secretary Dave Ward. Dave told the audience that the agreement had been formally adopted by the union’s Postal Executive and then the detailed document – all 36 pages – was distributed for delegates to read through.

While reps took a reading break, our general secretary and acting deputy general secretary Andy Furey broadcast the news that the Postal Executive had backed the negotiators’ agreement to members via Twitter and Facebook.

After the short break, both Dave and Andy gave speeches to the Bristol audience, Dave saying that Business Recovery, Transformation & Growth “can be an agreement that can stand the test of time, that moves us forward and moves the company forward” after what had been, he continued: “The most bitter, most intense and high-risk dispute this union’s ever been involved in.”

Historically, the Royal Mail 2022/23 dispute had been the most important and significant since the Wapping print dispute of 1986, Dave said, adding that the leaders of Royal Mail had “spent millions and millions of pounds not to settle this dispute, but to try to remove this union from the workplace. “They thought they were going to get rid of us,” he said. “But we are still here. We are all over this agreement and that, in itself, is a major achievement for this union.”

Our general secretary sharply criticised the leadership of the company for taking Royal Mail from a position of £758 million profit to its current situation in which there has been talk of administration. “They got us into this crisis,” he said, “and it’s this union and our member that must get us back into the right place again. The only way this can work is with agreed change, our reps and members shaping and influencing that change, change that aligns the interests of the customers, workforce and our members.”

Dave explained the pay aspect of the negotiators’ agreement and went onto highlight the joint commitment to growth and to quality of service, the joint commitment to growth and plans for both the union and the company to approach politicians at national and regional and local levels in pursuit of this aim. One politician who has taken a strong interest in this dispute, particularly in holding the different parties to account, is the Business, Enterprise & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Select Committee Chair Darren Jones and he received a very warm reception when he paid a visit to the briefing. Mr Jones, who is also the MP for Bristol North West, has robustly questioned Royal Mail CEO Simon Thompson and other senior Royal Mail bosses during BEIS Committee Evidence Sessions at Westminster in January and February.

Andy Furey, in his speech, also paid tribute to members and reps for the strong support they emphasised the opportunity that the agreement provides to reduce the proportion of agency workers and owner-drivers among the total workforce, as well as the job security commitments and CWU involvement, noting the number of times that the union is mentioned in the document.

Delegates then had the opportunity to ask their questions from the floor and express their points of view, with 20 separate contributions being made by reps from all parts of the UK. Many of these raised issues around suspensions and disciplinary actions against colleagues during the dispute, while others talked about duty revisions and asked about the attendance aspects of the agreement. In response to those who expressed opposition to the deal, others in this debate asked what the alternative to this agreement would be.

Industrial officers Mark Baulch, Davie Robertson and Carl Maden spoke next, addressing some of the operational issues raised in the discussion from the floor and going into further detail about the impacts of Business Recovery, Transformation & Growth within their respective area of responsibility. Next week, there will be a second round of briefings at which more CWU reps across different functions of Royal Mail will also get the opportunity to hear from their national officers and ask their questions.