Last Night’s TV – Dispatches: Post Office Undercover

by Lynn Connolly

Dispatches reporters Joe Ward and Karim Shah got temporary jobs with Royal Mail for this film, in order to highlight problems at the sharp end of RM’s stick, with the end result that one wonders how it’s still in business.

We’re all acutely aware of just how annoying it is when the post’s late, or worse, doesn’t arrive at all, and in this film, we got to see why. The answer is basically that Royal Mail, like possibly every other large organisation on the planet right now, is paying peanuts and employing monkeys, in every sector of its business.

Now before I get hate mail from every good, hard working postie in the land – and there are many, my own trusty and rather tired postie included – let me say that that statement is a generic metaphor rather than a dig at any individual.

Because for every hard-working, trustworthy postie there is – if this film is to be believed, and I see no reason to disbelieve it – there are as many who are quite happy to tear open greetings cards in case they contain money and abandon parcels they can’t be bothered to deliver.

However, it’s not just problems on the shop floor that are at the heart of this issue and it’s not the first time the Dispatches team have investigated goings-on at Royal Mail. After undercover stints in both 2004 and 2005, the crusading documentary makers prompted an investigation into the business practices at RM, leading to an inquiry and a fine of around £10mn.

So why, oh why, is Royal Mail still doing so god-awfully badly? Well part of the reason is, as I mentioned right at the beginning of this article, that the pay is poor. During the film, we saw temp workers being taken on to help out during the surge in post over Christmas, and some of them couldn’t understand what recorded delivery was all about because they didn’t speak much English.

Many more were disheartened and disenchanted with ever changing shift patterns, substandard equipment and the vagaries of one ludicrous ruling after another, all of which affected how they’re supposed to work. On local levels, over exuberant union leaders take issue with minutiae while overall, the whole shebang is going to hell in a handcart.

It rapidly became clear that what Royal Mail needs is one person with good business and organisational skills to take over and restructure the whole thing.

And as ever, while the bad is being highlighted, the good is being forgotten, and it’s those good workers – the ones who go the extra mile and do their jobs properly – who should be cherished and rewarded, and of course, they’re not being.

Any business is only as good as its workforce, and it’s clearly time that somebody with half a brain rooted out the many bad apples to hand over the public face of Royal Mail to the good ones.

If you missed this episode of Dispatches, you can catch up with it on 4oD, and it’s well worth a look.

Lynn is an editor and writer here at Unreality TV and is trained psychotherapist and the author of two books. She's addicted to soaps, period drama and reality TV shows such as X Factor, I'm A Celeb and Big Brother.