Final bid to avoid post workers strike chaos

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The Independent Online
Leaders of 170,000 Royal Mail workers meet senior managers tomorrow in a final attempt to avoid the threat of nationwide strikes over the future of the postal service.

The Communications Workers' Union executive is today expected to endorse a call for a ballot on industrial action in anticipation that the Post Office will "read the riot act" and offer no substantive concessions on proposed new working procedures.

Postal workers are concerned that new "team-working" will sideline their union and lead to an unacceptable degree of flexibility and uncertainty. The union also believes that despite denials, management will introduce more part-time workers by gradually eliminating the second postal delivery.

Alan Johnson, general secretary of the CWU and a firm supporter of Labour leader Tony Blair, is keen to resolve the situation before a general election. The CWU leader has consistently emphasised the advantages of the deal, but is now convinced that his members will not tolerate the kind of changes demanded.

Royal Mail has insisted that the second delivery will be protected and that the workforce will remain overwhelmingly full-time. Employees have been offered a jobs guarantee until the end of the century and a 15 per cent increase in basic wages in return for new work practices.

While there has been an atmosphere of co-operation at senior levels between the union and management, there is deep distrust in both cases lower down the scale. Management wants to introduce team-working, a procedure used increasingly in manufacturing, and the union wants a five-day week in return. At the moment, delivery staff work a 41-and-a-half-hour week over six days for an average of pounds 14,768 a year.

If the ballot goes ahead it will start on 13 May and the result will be revealed at the CWU annual conference in June.