The latest round of disruption could cause havoc during the Christmas period and come at a sensitive time for the Labour Party, with just six months to go before the general election.
Management is intensifying its campaign for a "no" vote, but concedes that there is discontent among the 130,000-strong workforce, which is intensely loyal to its union. The moderate leadership of the Communication Workers' Union is urging a vote for action, but is likely to call for fresh talks, whatever the outcome of the ballot.
The latest prediction of redundancies comes in a memorandum prepared by the Post Office which argues that strikes could force up to 30,000 employees on to the dole over the next five years, nearly one-quarter of the workforce. Ministers have warned that more stoppages would lead to a further suspension of the Post Office's letters monopoly.
The warning about job losses is a "worst case scenario" contained in a paper drawn up to assess the impact on the service of more stoppages.
The authors of the document say the three-month suspension threatened by the Government would allow serious competitive services to become established. After the dispute, private carriers would almost certainly attempt to persuade ministers to allow them to continue operations, the paper says. Senior Post Office managers believe that private operators could argue under European competition legislation that a reinstatement of the letters monopoly would be unlawful.
The union ballot result is not due out until the end of the month, but even moderate union officials conceded yesterday that the vote was likely to be in favour of fresh action.
Senior managers think that the result will be close - unlike the 68 per cent majority in favour of action in the first ballot - but say that they would not be surprised by another "yes" vote.Reuse content