Managers at Royal Mail will next month vote on strike action for the first time since the 1979 "winter of discontent", raising the threat of disruption to delivery of Christmas cards and presents.
The Unite trade union is to ballot more than 8,500 members working across Royal Mail, Parcelforce and Post Office Limited in an ongoing row over compulsory redundancies.
Royal Mail is proposing to cut 1,500 managerial jobs, which will be compulsory if there are not enough volunteers.
The company says falling volumes of post make headcount reductions unavoidable. But Unite has described the proposals as uneccesary and "drastic". Paul Reuter, its national officer, said yesterday: "Managers are so concerned about their futures, that, for the first time in more than 30 years, they will vote on industrial action. Unite will not allow managers to be forced out because of the poor decisions made at the very top of Royal Mail Group."
The ballot will run for three weeks from early next month and, if passed, Unite needs to give only a week's notice before the start of a walkout.
A spokesman for Royal Mail said it had increased its redundancy offer in an attempt to increase the numbers of staff volunteering. "We continue talking with Unite and have stressed we will continue doing our utmost to manage any job losses by voluntary means," he added.
"These reductions are essential as we continue adapting to our rapidly changing and declining market, where mail volumes have fallen by 13 million letters a day in just five years."
Unite's announcement of the ballot comes just weeks after the Coalition Government published proposals to privatise Royal Mail. Tomorrow, a parliamentary debate on the controversial issue will be held. So far, the dispute does not involve the Communication Workers' Union (CWU), which represents the majority of the organisation's 160,000 staff and has been involved in several rounds of industrial unrest in recent years. But the CWU is a vocal opponent of the privatisation plan and may yet join forces with Unite.
Alongside the plans to sell off Royal Mail – with 10 per cent of the shares being reserved for staff – the Government is also proposing a three-year funding package to turn the Post Office branch network into a mutual organisation similar to the Co-Operative Group.Reuse content