Mail union leaders warn of longer walkouts

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The Independent Online

Strikes by postal workers could escalate into longer walkouts after the collapse of talks aimed at resolving the bitter mail dispute, a union leader warned today.

Billy Hayes, general secretary of the Communication Workers Union, said there was "every prospect" that industrial action will now be stepped up.

Mr Hayes also revealed that the union was close to making a decision on whether to take legal action over Royal Mail's move to hire 30,000 agency workers to deal with the backlog of mail caused by the strike as well as the Christmas rush.

The warning came at the start of a fresh wave of strikes which will cause huge disruption to mail delivered for the second time this month.

Picket lines were mounted outside mail centres across the UK, with workers said to be "solidly supporting" the walkouts.

Mr Hayes told the Press Association: "We will be upping the dispute. We will not be scaling it down. There is every prospect that we will increase the action and we could be looking at longer strikes."

The warning raises the threat of huge disruption to Christmas post unless the bitter dispute over jobs, pay and modernisation is resolved.

Up to 120,000 union members will be on strike over the next three days following the collapse of peace talks last night.

The union claimed today that Royal Mail's plans could lead to 60,000 job losses, while the company accused the union of tabling fresh demands which scuppered hopes of a deal.

Postal deputy general secretary of the Communication Workers Union (CWU) Dave Ward dismissed claims that the union made fresh demands in talks yesterday morning as "complete nonsense".

He said: "The proposal that we tabled yesterday was in line with the progress that we had made in negotiations. If that is not true, our challenge to Royal Mail is why didn't they reject it outright? They waited eight hours and at this point in time we still don't know whether they accept it or not."

He accused company bosses of breaking the confidentiality of the talks and being unwilling to go to Acas for mediation.

Mr Ward said: "They wanted to string this out without a strike until after Christmas and then they were going to carry on imposing change. We don't want this dispute to carry on until Christmas."

He said the union and Royal Mail needed to have a "shared vision" of changes to the company and there are three main issues to be resolved: job security, working conditions and what constitutes a fair day's work.

Mr Ward said modernisation plans are not what they seem.

He said: "We genuinely feel that when they reveal the full extent of the plans for modernisation, people will begin to realise it is not modernisation, it's managing decline."

He said union members would not have continued to support strike action unless there was something "fundamentally wrong" with the way the company is being run.

The union leader also said they want the conflict resolved before Christmas.

He said: "It would be very difficult for us as people who have spent our lives in this industry to call a strike right at Christmas. I'd rather sort this out now than have people think we're holding them to ransom.

"It would be a very difficult call for the union to take strike action at Christmas, we've never done that."