Law could stop post strikes

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For the first time since the postal dispute began the Royal Mail is seriously considering legal action to prevent stoppages by 130,000 postal workers.

Letters arrived yesterday at regional union officials' homes warning that a pounds 100m package of benefits tabled by management would be withdrawn if employees carried out their threat to stage 24-hour strikes next weekend.

If the offer is taken off the table, some union sources believe the Royal Mail will argue that there is no "trade dispute" under the law and seek an injunction to prevent industrial action.

A Post Office spokesman said that while no decision had been taken to press ahead with court proceedings, they would be "looking at the legal implications" of their strategy.

Senior managers will have to consider whether successful litigation would prompt the kind of wildcat strikes which have plagued the industry over the past 18 months. In order to argue that there was no longer a lawful dispute they might also have to remove the "New Way of Working" document from the table as well. The paper insists that employees work in teams - the issue at the centre of the conflict. Hardliners said yesterday they would regard that as a victory.

Management contends that continuing disruption means the Post Office could no longer afford the pounds 100m package. Alan Johnson, general secretary of the union, said he had been told by the Royal Mail that fresh strikes would make bigger concessions from the union necessary to recoup lost revenue.

News of possible legal action follows a decision by the Communication Workers' Union to intensify disruption. A 24-hour stoppage next Friday begins at 7pm and another day-long strike starts at 10pm on Sunday, spreading the effect over four days.