Postal workers close to deal to end run of strikes

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The Independent Online

The stand-off over the Post Office appeared to be at an end last night after the union executive involved said it would discuss an agreement to end the series of rolling strikes that had threatened to carry over into next week.

The news came hours after Post Office workers were ordered by a High Court judge to call off the strikes. The injunction was issued after lawyers for Royal Mail successfully argued that the union had failed to follow the procedure required for notifying their intention to strike.

The Communication Workers Union, which represents postal workers, had planned to call 83 sorting centres out on strike on Monday. The next day, all 1,500 delivery centres would have been affected. Lesser actions were planned for Wednesday and Thursday. But last night it emerged that – subject to conditions being agreed among CWU members – the strikes would end.

Despite the injunction, unofficial stoppages that have broken out in three areas are likely to carry on.

Deliveries have been hit by wildcat strikes that broke out almost as soon as the official action ended on Wednesday. In south London, work resumed for only about eight hours before 1,400 staff walked out in a new dispute over union recognition. The next day, another 800 staff from 21 sorting offices went on strike unofficially on Merseyside. At a meeting at Aintree racecourse yesterday, the strikers voted to stay out for another day. The rash of unofficial strikes also spread to Scotland.

Some 130,000 Royal Mail staff have already taken part in two official 48-hour stoppages in a dispute over pay and conditions.

The Conservatives backed Royal Mail management's decision to go to court. Alan Duncan, the shadow Business Secretary, accused the union of " becoming increasingly irresponsible". He said the union was " destroying the postal service".

Adam Crozier, Royal Mail's chief executive, has accused his staff of engaging in "Spanish practices", which enable them to claim payments for hours not worked, or refuse to cover for absent colleagues.

The unions say that most of the practices of which he complained have either been discontinued, or are the result of agreements. One of the practices, which allows workers to clock off early if they have finished their round and still be paid for a full day, was imposed, in the face of union opposition, as a way of motivating staff to work quickly.

Union representatives say that during talks on Wednesday, after staff had returned from their second two-day strike, managers threatened to withdraw union recognition. Because of that, many workers say they will stay out until the threat is withdrawn.

A crowd of about 20 pickets kept vigil on the pavement outside one of south London's main sorting offices, Nine Elms, in Vauxhall, all day yesterday. The mood was good-natured, with none of the threats or aggression that scarred industrial relations in the UK in the 1970s and '80s.

About 20 staff, most of them union members, were thought to have crossed the picket line to report for work. "We're not stopping people from going in," John Mulvihill, a CWU shop steward said. "The police have been here and gone away again."

Royal Mail management denied any threat to withdraw union recogniton.