Royal Mail chief warns against strike action

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The Independent Online

Labour Editor

Leaders of 160,000 postal workers were warned yesterday that a threatened nationwide strike would be "absolutely daft".

The comments by John Roberts, Royal Mail's new chief executive, come 48 hours ahead of a deadline issued by the Communication Workers' Union. Senior union officials are calling for a strike ballot unless management offers assurances tomorrow about the future of services.

Concern over the continuing existence of the second postal delivery and the increasing introduction of casual staff are behind a series of wildcat walkouts which last year accounted for one in three of days lost in British industry through industrial action. Mr Roberts said he was confident that a dispute would be avoided. "A national strike would be daft for employees who would lose money and incredibly daft for customers who would think they were back in the bad old days."

He said there was no question of abolishing the second delivery, but indicated there could be a gradual and limited shift towards the employment of temporary and limited contract staff. About 1,500 to 2,000 jobs are scheduled to go each year, largely through mechanisation, and about 1,500 casual employees would be taken on.

He said, however, that "casualisation" of employment formed no part of the plan and that the proportion of full-timers to part-timers would remain at around 80-20 for the foreseeable future. He conceded that management had so far failed to reassure employees about their job security and said industrial relations would form an important part of his brief.

In a "state of the Royal Mail" address, Mr Roberts said the Prime Minister's statement that privatisation of the Post Office might be in the Tory election manifesto, would not affect the way the business was run.

Any sell-off was a matter for the Government, but it was important for any organisation to know exactly what was required by its biggest shareholder.

He also indicated his irritation at the two main political parties. He said Labour's plans for the Royal Mail were also unclear. He said the business had already extended into parts of the United States.