Emergency talks under way to end wildcat postal strikes

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The Independent Online

Royal Mail managers held emergency talks with union leaders last night in an attempt to resolve a dispute that brought postal services in London to a virtual standstill.

After 11 days of sporadic stoppages, officials at the Communication Workers Union (CWU) said that up to 20,000 employees in the capital stopped work yesterday in a wildcat strike, in protest at the imposition of new working conditions. A spokesman for the Royal Mail put the figure at nearer 10,000. Two major sorting centres in Essex joined the industrial action after management tried to force them to process the strikers' work. Even if strikers resume work today, it is thought that the backlog of mail will take several days to clear.

The postal services watchdog, Postwatch, warned of a "winter of discontent" unless both sides regained control of industrial relations. A senior union source said that, without an immediate resolution to the dispute, there would be a "national unofficial strike".

Royal Mail managers have agreed to meet the CWU at the conciliation service, Acas, today to discuss pay, which they say is at the heart of the conflict. The union says the problems began two weeks ago after management tried to impose new working conditions on employees returning to work after an official stoppage over London allowances.

Dave Ward, deputy general secretary of the CWU, said that the new dispute resulted from local managers "attacking, humiliating and belittling" union members.

"They refused overtime, changed duties, insisted on working Saturday as a normal day, victimised union representatives and generally tried to change, without agreement, all kinds of our members' terms and conditions," he said.