The threat of Britain's first national post strike for seven years ended yesterday after 160,000 postal workers voted narrowly against industrial action over pay.
In a relatively high turnout of 60 per cent, members of the Communication Workers Union voted by a margin of 50.9 per cent to 49.1 per cent against stoppages.
The union, deeply embarrassed by the "no" vote, delayed its announcement by almost four hours as the leadership discussed its next move.
Both sides in the dispute are thought likely to resume contact today, but the union's room for manoeuvre over proposed redundancies and wages will be limited by the surprise ballot result.
In a separate dispute, London postal workers voted in favour of strike action over the London weighting allowance. A total of 11,417 votes were cast in favour of a strike, with 4,316 against.
A CWU statement said: "While the national ballot is disappointing news for the union, Royal Mail cannot view a less than 1 per cent majority as a mandate for massive job losses across the industry.
"There is no agreed process to deal with major change in the industry, but the union remains committed to reaching a national settlement with Royal Mail which deals with all aspects of the challenges that face the industry and our members."
The statement added that the union's negotiating team would remain available for further negotiations, "with the clear objective of reaching an agreement acceptable to all our members".
The union said it had "a clear mandate" for strike action in London and that the executive would be considering tactics over the coming days.
On the national strike, a senior Royal Mail source said: "There was no real appetite for a strike. People understand there have to be changes. There will be no triumphalism on management's part. We have now got a job to do and ensure that the changes are brought in, and the union will have a role in that process."
He said the organisation now wanted to ensure that employees received the 14.5 per cent on offer, which is linked to productivity improvements. The union wanted 8 per cent "up front".
Earlier yesterday, the Department of Trade and Industry revealed new figures showing that in the year to July there were 123 stoppages, the lowest number of strikes since records began in 1920.Reuse content