Union calls for government help as postal strike starts

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The Government was urged last night to break its silence over the postal dispute after tens of thousands of workers started a series of strikes that will cripple deliveries until next week.

The Communication Workers Union accused ministers of showing "complete disinterest" in the argument over pay, jobs and pensions, which has flared into the most damaging bout of industrial unrest in the service for almost 20 years.

Warnings that the Royal Mail will start to lose customers were heightened yesterday when Warranty Direct said it would stop using the postal organisation to deliver its 12,000 letters a month. The car warranty provider said it will start emailing communications instead, saving the firm hundreds of thousands of pounds in postage and printing, and losing the Royal Mail £100,000. Its managing director, Duncan McClure Fisher, said: "As a business, we can no longer rely on the Post Office."

Workers mounted picket lines outside mail centres at the start of a 48-hour walkout at noon, which will be followed by another two-day stoppage from 3am on Monday. Firms were warned that the strikes meant there would be no deliveries until next Thursday.

The strike went ahead as planned, despite last-ditch talks between the union and Royal Mail aimed at resolving the long-running dispute.

The Government refused to become involved in the dispute, making it clear it should be resolved by the union and the management.

Billy Hayes, general secretary, attacked the Government, saying it had shown "complete disinterest" in the dispute. "If this was Northern Rock they would be pouring money in. This is a company they own and they seem to have no interest whatsoever."

A Royal Mail spokesman said: "We will do all we can to mitigate the impact of the strike action but we would ask our customers to avoid posting mail during the strikes."