Post Office staff in strike vote over move to WH Smith

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The Independent Online

Almost 500 Post Office workers in Greater Manchester and south-west Wales are to vote on whether to strike, after Royal Mail announced it is to shut a string of its main branches, and hand over the local franchises to WH Smith.

Although Royal Mail has assured staff there will be no compulsory redundancies as a result of the closures, the Communication Workers Union (CWU) says many will not be offered equivalent jobs in their own areas and will be forced to quit. As well as pushing for industrial action, the union is encouraging residents in the areas affected to boycott WH Smith.

Although there are closures across the UK - in Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Ashton-under-Lyne, Altrincham, Swansea, Llanelli, Shrewsbury, Slough and Hammersmith in London - strike ballots are being held only in Wales and Greater Manchester. Ballot papers were sent out yesterday.

The CWU's assistant secretary, Andy Furey, said: "Our members are deeply unhappy over the continuing downgrading of the service and are particularly alarmed at the emerging partnership between Post Office Ltd and WH Smith.

"Valuable public services and skilled staff are being lost to inexperienced retailers who refuse to take on Post Office employees. WH Smith has no history of providing the sort of services that the Post Office supplies. We are encouraging all local residents to boycott WH Smith to force them to pull out of these unpopular franchise agreements which will lead to the loss of over 124 highly trained Post Office staff."

The union claims Post Office workers who move over to WH Smith will receive much lower salaries and benefits.

Royal Mail said it had no choice but to shut the branches. A spokesman for the group said its 480 main outlets were losing £2m a week.

"If there is any industrial action we will seek to keep these branches open by deploying volunteer managers from elsewhere in the organisation," a spokesman said. "In any event, there are well over 500 sub-Post Offices in south-west Wales and in Greater Manchester and these would be completely unaffected and remain open for business as usual."

The spokesman added: "The threat of strike action will only worsen the prospects for loss-making Post Office branches, their employees and, most importantly, the customers who use them.

"The simple truth of the matter is that annual losses of £50m in the branches run directly by Post Office Ltd aren't sustainable. Partnerships with other retailers allow us to continue to provide our customers with all the services they rely on."

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