Postal dispute heads towards deal

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The long-running and damaging dispute at the Royal Mail is heading towards a settlement though the conflict at London Underground remains in deadlock and brought chaos to the capital yesterday.

Leaders of the Communication Workers' Union called off today's planned strike by 130,000 postal workers after "considerable progress" was made at a 25-hour session of negotiations at the conciliation service Acas which ended at noon yesterday.

With no sign of progress in the Tube dispute, however, there seemed little chance that another day-long walk-out on Monday would be avoided.

At the Royal Mail it was thought that some disruption might take place today because the walk-out was cancelled at such a late stage, but both sides were confident of a peace deal.

The decision by the CWU prompted Ian Lang, President of the Board of Trade, to "defer" his plan to suspend the Royal Mail's monopoly. He warned however that he would not hesitate to allow private operators to deliver letters for less than pounds 1 - the cut-off rate for the monopoly - if disruption continued. Further talks are to take place over the weekend ahead of a 48-hour stoppage scheduled to begin next Wednesday, following three previous day-long strikes. Members of the postal executive of the CWU have been told that union negotiators are near agreement on the key issues and that they will be asked to deliver the final verdict on Monday.

Alan Johnson, general secretary, told his executive yesterday that assurances had been received on the issue of "team-working" which employees' representatives had suspected was a device for getting more work for minimal reward.

Mr Johnson also declared his confidence that a new form of words from management would afford more protection for full-time jobs. The CWU has asked the Royal Mail to ensure that 30 per cent of mail is set aside for a second delivery in order to guard against part-time working.

A joint statement said: "Following four days of intensive discussions at Acas, both the Royal Mail and the Communication Workers' Union are confident they can reach agreement which resolves all the outstanding items in the dispute." It added that a settlement was expected over the weekend.

The dispute over working hours on London Underground however seemed nowhere near resolution as commuters and tourists were stranded and roads seized up. Instead of the usual 440 Tube services, the combined action by the RMT and Aslef unions meant that there were only 10.

Jimmy Knapp, RMT leader, accused management of a "go slow" over talks. He said that unless the Government intervened to insist on negotiations, Monday's strike was inevitable.

Ann Burfutt, LT's director of human resources, repeated her insistence that the argument should go to arbitration and that the unions should suspend Monday's action.

If the unions were serious about a reduction in the working week rather than a substantial pay rise they would accept an offer which cut working time to 37.5 hours, but offered a 2.4 per cent rise rather than 3.2 per cent.

Lew Adams, Aslef general secretary, said that she was being "mischievous" because that offer had already been rejected.