Post strike causes chaos for small businesses

Union representing 20,000 Royal Mail workers announces more action
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The Independent Online

Small businesses, already struggling to cope during the recession, have been left "facing a nightmare" over continuing strike action by postal workers, a leading business association warned yesterday.

The warning came as the Communication Workers Union, representing around 20,000 Royal Mail employees taking part in strike action, announced a further series of 24-hour strikes in London, the south and east of England and some areas in the north this week.

Workers accused Royal Mail of reneging on promises over a modernisation programme which would lead to job losses and changes in working patterns. On Thursday the CWU will decide whether to hold a nationwide strike.

The British Chambers of Commerce said disruption to post deliveries had dragged on for too long and called for the Government to "get a grip" on the situation. The London Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) added that the strike, which has left some businesses waiting for mail for 10 days, had left small businesses having to cope with cheque delays, penalty charges and a rise in customer complaints.

"The combination of high volumes of undelivered mail and the uncertainty as to when post will arrive has made this summer's strikes a nightmare for businesses," said Helen Hill, director of policy for the LCCI. "This dispute must be brought to an immediate end so that firms can get on with the real job of getting through the worst recession in a generation."

Sandra Senior, financial controller for Chainbow, a residential management company in Waterloo, south London, said their debt recovery department was inundated with calls from residents who were worried that late payments would put their homes at risk.

"The strike has had a huge effect and has put a lot of pressure on our debt recovery department. We collect service charges and they've been inundated with calls from upset residents," she said. "Their fear is that if it doesn't get paid we'll go to their mortgage company and their house is at risk. Our fear is whether residents are being truthful. It drags out the whole debt process.

"We deal with old people and others who are paying thousands of pounds in service charges – they don't like electronic. We also send out pre-legal notices, which people don't receive or are delayed. Some cheques we've waited 10 days for."

According to LCCI figures, the last national strike in 2007 cost London businesses £305m. Royal Mail said the decision by workers to continue striking was "wholly irresponsible" and aimed at derailing modernisation.

Royal Mail said managers were being drafted in to deal with the backlog of mail. Outside one sorting office in Worple Road, Wimbledon, this weekend managers were photographed sorting mail on the street with vans unable to get through.

A spokesman for Royal Mail said: "Mail has been delayed and it does damage confidence in us. But in areas where there have been strikes we've sent in managers to sort through post and can provide several hundred. We're getting through the backlog. We put it at four to five million items."

Nicko Williamson, managing director of eco-taxi firm, Climatecars, said the postal strike was causing considerable pressure on cash flows.

"We had £20,000 waiting to be delivered, in cheques, last week. We had two days of post. Today £8,000 arrived," he said.

"We also have time-sensitive documents like the parking tickets we receive daily, which need to be processed quickly. They're not easy to negotiate. In addition we have some upset suppliers whose cheques from us have failed to get through. We're getting first- class post dated the end of August.

"I understand [the workers'] point of view but it's so much more difficult in very challenging economy."