'Strike is making us look stupid,' says Royal Mail boss

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The post office strike is making the Royal Mail "look stupid", the chairman of the company said yesterday.

Allan Leighton told The Independent on Sunday that his customers did not care who was to blame for the wildcat action which has seen 50 million items of post build up over the past two weeks. What started as a trivial dispute in London has now spread across the country, with one in eight postal workers now on unofficial strike.

Patricia Hewitt, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, also entered the dispute. "Customers are losing their mail, postal workers are losing their pay, and neither megaphone diplomacy nor unofficial action will solve the problem," she said.

Mr Leighton said yesterday: "I am sick of all the rhetoric. Let's get back to brass tacks. We are letting our customers down. The strike is making us look stupid throughout the whole country. I talk for the company, not the management, not the workforce. At the moment the company does not look good. It's not doing what it is supposed to do, which is deliver mail.

"We have to find a solution as soon as possible. We are losing money. We are losing customers." Mr Leighton added that he had not ruled out legal action to end the dispute. He refused to put a timetable on negotiations before going to the courts, saying discussions were fluid and he would "play things by ear".

A spokesman for the Communication Workers' Union said negotiations, which continued yesterday, were unlikely to break down as both sides were committed to a solution. He welcomed Mr Leighton's intervention, saying it had energised the negotiation process. But he added that allegations that management had spied on union members were now one of the major points of discussion.

Royal Mail's chief executive, Adam Crozier, personally joined the talks last night. The dispute will be taken to the arbitration service Acas tomorrow morning.