The prospects of averting the first national postal strike for seven years looked bleak last night after talks between union leaders and management broke down without any sign of agreement.
Hours before a ballot result on strike action, leaders of the Communication Workers Union and Royal Mail managers adjourned talks at a secret location in London. Chris Proctor, a union spokesman, said: "They are meeting again at 9am which will give them a chance, but today hasn't particularly improved the chan-ces of averting the strike."
Walkouts could begin next week. The union has balloted 160,000 workers on whether to strike in protest at an offer said by Royal Mail to be worth 14.5 per cent over two years but linked to productivity.
The union is seeking a basic minimum of £300 a week and has complained that the offer, which it says is worth 4.5 per cent over 18 months, contains "more strings than the philharmonic orchestra". Plans to cut 30,000 jobs are also being resisted.
Royal Mail says it is losing £750,000 a day and that the offer, which would cost £340m, is all it can afford.
Allan Leighton, the chairman, has warned that strikes would be "commercial suicide", costing the business about £20m a day.