Postal workers begin clearing strike backlog

Postal workers today began clearing a huge backlog of millions of items of mail as the latest wave of strikes ended, with little sign of any fresh moves to break a deadlocked ro over jobs, pay and modernisation.

Two 24-hour walkouts on Thursday and Friday led to 30 million letters being delayed, about 40 per cent of an average daily postbag, although union leaders maintained that the figure was much higher.

Royal Mail said there had been no problems today with the return to work, with deliveries resuming across the country.

But fresh strikes will be held for three days from next Thursday unless the company and the Communication Workers Union can resolve the dispute in the coming days.

Royal Mail chief executive Adam Crozier will give his first interview since the strikes started when he appears on BBC TV's Andrew Marr show tomorrow.

Meanwhile, Unite confirmed it had written to its 10,000 members who work as managers at the Royal Mail, stressing the union's support for the CWU.

The letter, emailed to members last week, said: "It is our wish to give CWU all possible support, within the law, to help ensure a satisfactory settlement to the dispute.

"We would ask you to ensure that you undertake no work beyond your normal duties which would assist management in its efforts to undermine legitimate industrial action."

The managing director of Royal Mail, Mark Higson, told the BBC: "We are really calling on the CWU to accept the agreement that they looked at last Tuesday night and to join with us in signing that agreement, which will mean that any strikes are unnecessary."

A Royal Mail spokesman said: "The issue for us is to make sure we clear the backlog as quickly as possible."

Asked if the backlog would be cleared before the next threatened round of strikes he said: "Our aim will be to do that. We will have to see how things go."

He denied union reports that 65 million items of post had been delayed in the strikes and said the figure they were working with remained at 30 million.

He said the service was waiting to see on Monday whether the strikes would stop people posting as much mail.

Meanwhile, the GMB said it continued to receive calls today to a phone hotline for members of the public to report the names of employment agencies supplying staff to the Royal Mail, believing the practice was illegal, despite denials from the postal organisation.

The union said it was reiterating its offer of unconditional talks at the conciliation service Acas to try to head off further strikes.

Deputy general secretary Dave Ward said: "We have a few days before any further strike action would take place.

"Given the progress we were making in talks earlier this week, this should be enough time to reach an agreement.

"We want to go to Acas with no preconditions on either side to resolve this dispute."

Next week's 24-hour strikes will involve 43,700 staff across the UK in mail centres, delivery units in mail centres, network logistic drivers and garage staff on Thursday; 400 workers in Plymouth, Stockport and Stoke who deal with poorly-addressed mail, on Friday; and 77,000 delivery and collection workers on Saturday.

Business Secretary Lord Mandelson denied repeated union claims that he was orchestrating the postal strike, describing the CWU's accusations as "nonsense from beginning to end".

The GMB said it started to receive calls from members of the public shortly after setting up its hotline - 020 8971 4217.

General secretary Paul Kenny said: "An employment business may not supply a temporary worker to a hirer to replace an individual taking part in an official strike or any other official industrial dispute.

"In addition an employment business must not introduce or supply a work-seeker to do the work of someone who has been transferred by the hirer to perform the duties of the person on strike or taking industrial action.

"However in spite of this law there is widespread and well reported law breaking by employment agencies in the current post dispute.

"Lord Mandelson, Royal Mail and employment agencies will not be allowed to ignore the law."

The Royal Mail has strongly denied that its move to hire 30,000 agency workers to deal with the effects of the strike as well as the Christmas rush, was illegal.

Consumer groups have called for people not to be penalised if they were late paying bills because of the postal strike.

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