A Royal Mail decision to sack three postmen in a week for not wearing helmets has been condemned as ‘draconian’.
The three, all from Southport, Merseyside, apparently fell victim to a rigid interpretation of Royal Mail guidelines and are now fighting reinstatement.
Postal workers say the issue is a smokescreen used by the Royal Mail to cut staff numbers and costs.
One Southport postman, who wished to remain anonymous, told his local paper, the Southport Visiter, that his bosses were sacking people “through the back door”.
He said: “This is not about health and safety, this is about penny pinching. It’s no coincidence that the people being targeted at Southport are full-time workers.
“The atmosphere at work at the moment is terrible. There’s serious tension between the postmen and the bosses over this. It wouldn’t surprise me if it got to the stage where there was a walkout.”
The issue of helmets and cycling postal workers is a contentious one. Since 2003 the organisation has made the wearing of helmets compulsory. However, there is no legal requirement for anyone to wear a cycling helmet.
Then, the CTC, which has campaigned hard against the compulsory introduction of cycling helmets, published an open letter of support to postal staff and set up an information line for cycling postal workers.
The CTC said: “We wish to question the advice in an as-yet unpublished report commissioned by Royal Mail, which led to them adopt this helmet rule. We want to know whether it considered the following issues:
* Why is there no evidence of any link between increased helmet-wearing with improved cycle safety?
* Whether enforced helmet-wearing is any better justified for cyclists than for pedestrians or drivers?
* What liabilities might the employer incur by enforcing helmet-wearing on its cycling workforce?
* Whether employers are legally entitled to require staff to wear helmets for cycling on public roads?
The CTC says: “Contrary to the impressions of many non-cyclists, cycling is not an especially 'dangerous' activity, nor is it particularly prone to result in head injuries. One study suggests that compulsory helmets for pedestrians, drivers and passengers could save 12 times as many lives.”
Regional union chair Paddy Magill admitted he was currently dealing with “a number of cases of this issue” and said that guidelines were being interpreted by some Royal Mail bosses in a “draconian” manner.
Local MP John Pugh has demanded to know why so many local postmen have been subjected to disciplinary treatment after seeing a “frighteningly long list”.
He said: “The only one at risk from not wearing a helmet is the postman himself but the disciplinary action is not even consistent. Behaviour that is tolerated in one area may not be in Southport."
A Royal Mail spokesman said: “We take the safety of employees very seriously which is why it is mandatory for all staff who use a bike to wear personal protective equipment, including cycle helmets."
The bloggers have been out in force on the latest helmet-related sackings. One, Butrtthebike, on the Daily Express newspaper’s site, commented: “The helmet rule for postmen has nothing to do with the safety of cycling postmen. When it was brought in, Royal Mail commissioned a report from the Transport Research Laboratory about helmets, but have refused to release it. Nowhere with a helmet law or massive increase in helmet wearing because of a publicity drive, can show any reduction in risk to cyclists.
“It's clear that these sackings are being done instead of making people redundant, and the union should be fighting this all the way. Unfortunately, the union supported the introduction of helmets, and like their bosses, refused to look at any evidence which might undermine their irrational beliefs.”
* Are you a cycling postal worker? Do you wear a lid, or not? What do you think of the Royal Mail’s actions? Drop us a line and let us know.