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Royal Mail and unions turn to third party mediation

The Royal Mail, in an agreement with unions Unite and the Communication Workers Union (CWU), has called in independent mediators The TCM Group to resolve disputes among its 150,000 staff.

It is the first time the company has taken this step. It is also updating its bullying and harassment policy. The new initiative will offer support from The TCM Group to all staff.

Michael Newby, director of employee relations at Royal Mail, told HR magazine the move isn't a reaction to current problems. "This isn't about necessity, it's about approach,” he said. “Our relationship with the unions is improving and developing. We see this as an agenda for growth.”

Talking about how the mediators would be deployed, he said: "It's a two-tier approach. In the first year we will bring in expert mediators when requested by both parties in a dispute. In the second year we are going to use them as trainers so that our own staff can act as mediators."

This is not the first time employee issues at Royal Mail have hit the headlines. In August 2013 former company manager Simon Walshe wrote a series of emails in support of striking postal workers in Bridgewater. He criticised Royal Mail's management and their handling of bullying cases.

"Royal Mail's managerial 'style' promotes behaviour that would shame most modern organisations and they do not seem to understand just how divisive and counter productive it is," he said.

This situation is improving, according to one of the unions involved in the agreement. However, Unite officer Brian Scott told HR magazine there is still work to be done.

“Bullying and harassment is not a huge problem but there are more cases than we would like and dealing with them is stressful for all parties,” he said. “Often difficult relationships can be improved by just talking and understanding each other’s point of view. We anticipate the mediation will assist in this.”

David Liddle, CEO at The TCM Group, told HR that he sees this as a sign of progress at Royal Mail. "In any organisation challenges are going to arise. The Royal Mail, along with the unions, are showing real leadership and a proactive approach,” he said.

Liddle denied bringing in a third party was a sign of failing to deal with conflict in-house. "Far from being a sign of the company failing to deal with these challenges, this shows Royal Mail is looking to create a culture of compassion and understanding. It is looking for ways of dealing with conflict effectively."