The Royal Mail faces the prospect of its first national strike for a decade as managers and union leaders clashed over pay, privatisation and shares for the workers.
The Communication Workers Union warned that it would launch a ballot on industrial action in four weeks' time if there was no agreement on the issues.
Earlier, the union announced that the overwhelming majority of its members had rejected the imposition of a 2.9 per cent wage rise and a plan to issue them with shares. In a turnout of more than two thirds of the union membership, 90,103 Royal Mail workers voted for the union's vision of a publicly-owned Post Office - a majority of 98.5 per cent.
Management indicated their belief that the ballot may have been rigged, but the CWU said it had also commissioned a poll conducted by an independent company which showed that 949 out of the 1,000 respondents endorsed the union's stance.
Allan Leighton, the Royal Mail chairman, insisted 80,000 employees have backed his idea of issuing shares and called for an independent auditor to assess the company and union consultation processes. Union officials said they had no intention of co-operating with such an exercise and pointed out the company had banned the union from holding its ballot in the workplace.
Speaking at his union's annual conference in Bournemouth, Billy Hayes, the CWU general secretary, said: "The message that goes out from here today is democracy has been restored to the Post Office." He said Mr Leighton had a "bloody cheek" asking an auditor to examine the ballot. "We will not take lessons from him on how to conduct a ballot."
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A spokesman for the Royal Mail said piles of union ballot papers had been left in delivery offices and mail centres. "No form of identity was required to take part, and no names or pay numbers had to be given. Some people could have picked up more than one ballot paper," the spokesman said. "As to privatisation, the only people who are talking about that are union officials."
The union's deputy general secretary Dave Ward said the Royal Mail had made a "huge mistake" by imposing the pay deal and banning the union from holding its ballot in the workplace. "The Royal Mail wants this union out of the way so it can drive through its business plan without any negotiations."
A Royal Mail spokesman said the 2.9 per cent increase in basic pensionable pay was above the inflation rate and would be boosted by productivity payments already agreed. He said a share issue to employees did not necessarily mean privatisation.Reuse content