The threat of a national strike by postal workers came a step closer today when over 120,000 postmen and women prepared to start voting in a ballot.
The Communication Workers Union announced that ballot papers will be sent out tomorrow in the long-running row over pay, jobs and services.
The dispute has sparked a series of walkouts across the country over the past few months which has disrupted mail deliveries.
The union has now decided to hold a national ballot, with the result due early next month.
Deputy general secretary Dave Ward said today: "Without agreement there can be no successful change in Royal Mail.
"This is a simple message which Royal Mail management needs to take on board.
"Postal workers are striking to defend future services as well as for jobs and modern conditions.
"Modernisation is crucial to the future success of Royal Mail, but the implementation of change must be agreed and it must bring with it modern pay and conditions.
"Postal workers deserve to be rewarded for change. We want to see a new job security agreement which will help people through this time of change for the company.
"CWU is focused on defending jobs and public services. Modernisation should improve services not cut them.
"We believe that Royal Mail management has completely mishandled the current situation.
"Disruption is hurting small businesses and other consumers, but postal workers are suffering more than anyone in the current dispute.
"Small businesses stand to suffer more with reduced services in the future if Royal Mail doesn't reach a national agreement."
A number of business groups have urged the Government to intervene in the dispute which has already caused a backlog of undelivered mail.
Royal Mail managing director Mark Higson said: "The ballot further underlines the CWU's determination to renege on the existing 2007 agreement on pay and modernisation which the union's leadership signed in the presence of the TUC.
"It beggars belief that CWU chief Dave Ward says that the disruption caused by the CWU strike is hurting customers yet at the same time calls a national strike ballot to step up the damage they are already inflicting on customers big and small.
"The CWU leadership is well aware that it has already agreed all the changes Royal Mail is making and we urge them to recognise the tough economic conditions faced by all our customers and Royal Mail itself and to live up to their claims to support modernisation and to focus - as the company is doing - on delivering the postal service on which so many customers depend."
TUC general secretary Brendan Barber told a fringe meeting at the TUC Congress in Liverpool that the CWU was committed to modernisation.
"I refute the lies put about that the union is blocking change because that is simply not the case."
Mr Barber said the consultation on modernisation promised two years ago at the end of the last national dispute had not happened.
CWU leader Billy Hayes said the Government could not simply "walk away" from the Royal Mail's problems, including its huge pension deficit, and argued that the union had been trying to protect jobs and services.
"It wasn't us who closed 3,000 post offices, abolished Sunday collections and cut 40,000 jobs."Reuse content