Angard Staffing Solutions
Royal Mail received 110, 000 applications for 18, 000 temporary roles this Christmas. Photograph: Chris Ratcliffe/Rex Features
Unemployed people who thought they had secured precious paid employment as temporary postal workers in the runup to Christmas have been turned away from sorting offices due to administrative failures by Royal Mail's in-house staffing agency, the Guardian can reveal.
The Guardian has received around 100 complaints from candidates for Royal Mail Christmas jobs in many parts of the country who are angry about how their applications have been processed and who claim information relating to starting dates and times has been poorly relayed to them.
The criticism is mostly directed at Angard Staffing Solutions, an in-house employment agency owned by Royal Mail and part-managed by Reed Specialist Recruitment, which was set up earlier this year to handle the postal service's temporary workforce requirements.
Many applicants claimed they had been kept in the dark about the status of their applications, and had experienced difficulties getting through to Angard to gain any information. Royal Mail admitted that in some areas, Angard had struggled to cope with "exceptionally large" numbers of applications. "We apologise to anyone who found it difficult to contact us, " a spokesman said.
Royal Mail pointed out it had received 110, 000 applications for 18, 000 temporary roles this Christmas. A spokesman said: "We are, of course, very sorry if anyone feels the recruitment process has not met the high standards Royal Mail always seek to achieve. We are very confident that would be the view of a very small minority. If anyone feels they have not been treated fairly, we would welcome hearing from them."
One complaint – typical of many received – involved a worker arriving at a Birmingham sorting office for his first shift at the appointed time, only to be turned away because he was not on the "signing-in" list.
"There were about 35-40 of us in the same situation, " he claims. "I was told to contact Angard. I was unsuccessful in getting through on the telephone on various numbers so sent an email, which was never replied to. The official 0845 contact number played a recorded message stating that due to the volume of calls, it had been disabled."
Some of those contacting the Guardian reported that their security photo ID, which is now essential to gain access to sorting offices, was not ready by the time they were due to start work. One worker describes an incident at the Swindon sorting office: "I reported to the depot at 2pm along with around 60 other people, and the process of issuing ID badges began. At the end of this process at least half of those present had not received badges and we were told it was believed the remainder had been sent to the wrong depot.
"We were sent to work in another building pending the arrival of our badges – needless to say they never arrived. At the end of the shift, those of us without badges (the majority I would say) were laid off and given a number for Angard to query about the status of our security clearance – this was answered by a recorded message saying that it was impossible to take calls due to volume."
Royal Mail's spokesman admitted that there had been difficulties "in a small number of cases" but that the company was "very confident the reports outlined affected a minority of people and were very exceptional".
"Nonetheless … we apologise to any individuals concerned, " he said.
Others complain of being given less than 24 hours' notice of start dates and times, and having dates and locations switched at short notice. "I got a call at 11am telling me to report for work at 6am the following morning, " said one applicant. "I was happy I'd got the job, but then the caller told me the location had changed from Coventry to Nuneaton."
Royal Mail's spokesman said: "In the huge majority of cases, new joiners were given at least a week's notice before they were due to begin work, and in many cases it was several weeks. However, a small number of the people who had accepted an offer of a job did not turn up. It meant we had to fill some vacancies very quickly. The offers we made, however, did make it clear to people that we may have to make changes at short notice. This was because of operational requirements – for example, if there were unexpected increases in mail volumes."
Some workers who have been taken on for the Christmas season by Royal Mail claim they have experienced delays with payment of wages.
A temporary worker at the Southampton depot told the Guardian he had contacted Angard with an inquiry about wages and was told the agency did not possess his bank details, despite having provided them to Angard on paper at the registration stage. He was asked to resupply his details over the phone. Royal Mail said its initial investigations suggested this was "not true", but said it would look into the claims more closely.
Dave Ward, deputy general secretary of the Communication Workers Union, which represents permanent postal workers, said it had also received similar complaints and urged agency workers at Royal Mail to join the union so it could help protect their pay and conditions.
"This is the first year that agency workers have been brought in using the Angard agency and we've heard a few cases and complaints which are worrying, " Ward said. "Some of the worse ones involve people being told they've got a job and then turned away when they show up to start their shift. If people then lose out on benefit payments because they should be earning a salary, that will have a major impact on them and their families in the runup to Christmas.
"With unemployment so high, the volume of applicants this year has been huge, but if you're dealing with people's employment you should do everything possible to treat them fairly. 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