Postal workers across the UK walked out on strike at noon today, crippling mail deliveries until next week in an escalation of a bitter dispute over pay, jobs and pensions.
Members of the Communication Workers Union (CWU) mounted picket lines outside mail centres at the start of a 48-hour walkout, which will be followed by another two-day stoppage from 3am on Monday.
Firms were warned that the strikes mean there will be no deliveries until next Thursday, and it is estimated that the row will cost industry millions of pounds.
The strike went ahead as planned despite last-ditch talks between the union and Royal Mail aimed at resolving the long-running dispute.
The two sides met at TUC headquarters in London, but there was little sign of a breakthrough as the postal workers began their action.
The Government refused to become involved in the dispute, making it clear it should be resolved by the union and the management.
A spokesman for the Department for Business said: "The Government has been encouraging and will continue to encourage the parties involved to pursue and find a solution through talks.
"No one will benefit from strike action. Strike action can only damage Royal Mail's business and the postal services market as a whole.
"The dispute is for the Royal Mail management and the unions to resolve.
"Royal Mail needs to modernise to compete in a liberalised postal services market. Management and unions must work together to achieve this and to meet the challenges of a liberalised market."
A Royal Mail spokesman said: "We will do all we can to mitigate the impact of the strike action but we would ask our customers to avoid posting mail during the strikes and if they do so, then to post any mail at Post Office branches, which will all be open for business as usual.
"Royal Mail has consistently sought a resolution to this dispute and we have been in talks with the CWU since last March. We apologise to our customers for any inconvenience that CWU strike action causes."
Dave Ward, the union's deputy general secretary, said that despite several weeks of negotiations, the Royal Mail had not taken on board the union's message that the company needs to invest in the workforce.
A rolling programme of strikes will start on October 15 and will continue every week until the dispute is resolved, union leaders have warned.
Postal workers have staged four national strikes and other forms of industrial action since the summer after rejecting a 2.5% pay offer and the Royal Mail's modernisation plans, which the union claimed would cost 40,000 jobs.
Natalie Evans, head of policy at the British Chambers of Commerce, said: "The main impact that this strike is having on the majority of businesses is to drive them away from Royal Mail and into the arms of competitors and web-based solutions."
The National Federation of SubPostmasters warned that the dispute was in danger of spiralling out of control.Reuse content