Striking postal workers told to 'get back to work' by PM

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The Government came under attack over its handling of the postal dispute yesterday as the Prime Minister made it clear he wanted striking staff to return to work.

Gordon Brown told a Downing Street press conference that the row over pay, jobs and pensions was disrupting people's lives, adding: "When we, the Government, are investing a huge amount of money in the postal services, it is not something that we can either condone or we can stand idly by and say it is an acceptable form of behaviour.

"I want these people back to work."

Up to 130,000 members of the Communication Workers Union staged another 48-hour walkout from 3am yesterday after marathon peace talks at the weekend failed to break the deadlock.

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber, who chaired 30 hours of talks, was said to be "cautiously optimistic" that an agreement could be reached.

A TUC source said: "The talks are now at a critical stage with only a few issues left to be resolved."

Negotiations between the Royal Mail and the union resumed yesterday, but there was little sign of a deal.

CWU general secretary Billy Hayes said of the Prime Minister's comments: "Government money is being squandered by Royal Mail management who seem intent on privatisation.

"Secretary of state for Business and Enterprise, John Hutton, is the invisible man in this dispute. The minister's absence is encouraging the wreckers at the head of the company who have no public service values."

The union said that some progress had been made but deputy general secretary Dave Ward, who led the negotiations, said he remained "resolute" in trying to reach an acceptable deal for postal workers.

He told a Central London rally of hundreds of striking postal workers that the Government was more interested in promoting the idea of giving postal workers "phantom shares" than agreeing to protect their pensions.