PO closure bid was 'unlawful'

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PLANS to close hundreds more Crown post offices have suffered a damaging setback after an industrial tribunal ruled against the Post Office management last week.

Union leaders said the case, which involved the closure of a West Midlands post office and the franchising of its operations, could slow down the closure programme drastically.

Under the scheme, which has been backed by Michael Heseltine, President of the Board of Trade, large high street post offices are closed and the franchise to offer post office services goes to other shops. Staff are offered jobs elsewhere in the Post Office or offered redundancy.

The Union of Communication Workers brought its case on behalf of a supervisor and seven counter clerks affected by the franchising of their office in Corporation Street in Coventry. Staff were either redeployed or took redundancy when the franchise was transferred to the Coventry and East Mercia Co- operative Society in June 1994.

In a reserved judgement, the industrial tribunal in Birmingham ruled that the Post Office had not honoured its obligations under the Transfer of Undertakings Regulations 1981 to inform and consult the union.

The ruling was a double blow for the management since the tribunal rejected a Post Office argument that, for technical reasons, the regulations do not apply to the franchising programme. Because none of the staff were actually moved to the Co-op site, which employed different workers, the rules should not apply, the Post Office had argued.

The tribunal threw out that argument and decided that, in this case, the employers had not consulted with the union. Staff were awarded maximum compensation of four weeks pay per employee.

Alan Johnson, general secretary of the UCW, said: "This is good news for the public and for our campaigners."

Mr Johnson promised a "long, hot summer" of campaigning and said that each proposed closure would now take several months of consultation to achieve, if the Post Office was not to be in breach of its legal requirements.

Since 1989 the Post Office has franchised off half of its 1,500 Crown post offices and the unions expect a further 500 to go the same way. The UCW hopes that, if the programme can be delayed, many post offices will be saved by the intervention of an incoming Labour government.

However, the Post Office said yesterday that the judgement would not affect their plans. A spokeswoman said: "It does not mean a halt to our programme of franchising. We now consult fully on our plans for staff.

"As far as we are concerned the policy of changing main post offices has been a tremendous success."