Royal Mail claims postal strike is flagging as rivals target business

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The Independent Online

The Royal Mail claimed that support for the controversial postal strike was "weakening" yesterday as talks between the two sides aimed at bringing an end to the disruption continued.

The Royal Mail, in its statement, maintained that "50 per cent more people" were working compared with previous strike days.

It said: "Attendance at strikes across the country varied hugely with up to 90 per cent of our people working as normal in some offices and with about 35,000 people coming to work as usual during the first 24-hour period of action. This is around a third of people due to be at work. We expect this level to rise over the next few days." The Royal Mail said "the high level of attendance" meant it was continuing to process mail and that deliveries were taking place across the country, although at reduced levels.

The two-day strike – over a 2.5 per cent pay offer, job cuts, changes to working practices and plans to change the company's generous final-salary pension scheme – was called by the 130,000-strong Communications Workers' Union and started on Thursday. A second stoppage planned for Monday means the dispute will paralyse deliveries for a week.

A CWU spokeswoman said: "We are not at all concerned by Royal Mail putting that out. It is always possible to find offices where more people have turned up, but we know we have the overwhelming support of our members."

The spokeswoman said in response to criticism that the strike will damage the postal industry: "We are very concerned about the future of Royal Mail, that is why we found ourselves in this position. We don't feel that the business is addressing the problem of competition effectively and we are incredibly keen to have an agreement. That is why we are still in negotiations."

Business Post, which com-petes with the Royal Mail, said it would benefit in some ways from the stoppage, particularly with Royal Mail customers switching to its parcel delivery service. But its chief executive Guy Buswell said the company still found the dispute "very frustrating" because it uses postmen and women for the last leg of delivery. "This doesn't really do us any favours – our letters are stuck in depots because there are no postmen to deliver them. While this raises awareness of competition, overall it is bad for mail as a medium."

Yesterday Unite, which represents 12,000 managers, struck a deal with Royal Mail on pay and pensions, agreeing a 7.3 per cent rise over two years. It has also accepted the replacement of the final-salary pension scheme with a "career average" arrangement that bases payouts on average earnings over an employee's career rather than the salary he or she earns just before retiring.

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