Post forfeits monopoly for extra 3 months

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The Independent Online
The Royal Mail's letter monopoly was suspended for three months last night after leaders of 130,000 postal workers ordered an escalation of the long-running dispute.

The executive of the Communication Workers' Union called 24-hour walk- outs from 7pm on Friday 20 September and from 10pm on the following Sunday. The timing of the stoppages means that disruption will spread over four days and the action forms a serious intensification of the conflict.

Union officials said it could take up to 10 days to clear the backlog of mail and warned that the new disruption was a "pre-curser to a further range of strike action" aimed at bringing the dispute to a head.

More than 5,000 Post Office engineers may also be ballotted on walk-outs in an argument about productivity, the CWU warned.

The Labour leader Tony Blair made it clear that he thought leaders of 130,000 postal workers should order a ballot on the latest Royal Mail peace formula.

His call later last night contrasted with a statement from the Alan Johnson, the union's general secretary, that a vote was not necessary at present.

John Monks, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, intervened for the first time in the dispute and called the postal executive of the union to a meeting next Tuesday to discuss "the implications of the dispute for the interests of the wider movement".

It is thought that he intends to bang heads together in an attempt to ward off attempts by the Labour leadership to get tough with unions.

On a visit to the annual conference of the TUC in Blackpool, David Blunkett, Labour's employment and education spokesman, said he regretted the dispute was to continue. He called for "give and take" from both sides.

The Government's decision to suspend the letters monopoly could severely undermine the Royal Mail's business. A one-month suspension of its right to deliver items costing less than pounds 1 postage ended last week after eight previous strikes.

A spokesman for the management said the decision by the CWU was "suicidal". He said Royal Mail would consider withdrawing its offer to increase pay and reduce hours in return for concessions over productivity.

Better news for the Labour leadership came when the RMT transport union called off day-long strikes over productivity payments at three of the seven train operating companies scheduled for today. Guards and catering staff at CrossCountry trains, North London Railways and MerseyRail Electrics will be working normally.

Walk-outs will still take place at Regional Railways North East, North West Regional Railways, ScotRail and South Wales and West Railway. The union is expected to announce tomorrow a "yes" vote in strike ballots at a further 10 companies.