Britain's postal service was threatened with national strikes yesterday after a warning of up to 30,000 job losses. Union leaders gave Consignia, the new name of the Post Office, until 1pm today to withdraw plans for such a "massive" cutback. The Communication Workers' Union threatened ballots on industrial action if management sticks to its strategy and refuses to guarantee no compulsory redundancies.
The union confirmed it was aware of a scheme to slim the workforce, but said it was taken aback by the "enormity" of the planned redundancies, double the number previously announced. John Keggie, deputy general secretary of the union, said he would be recommending a ballot on industrial action in the new year unless management withdrew its plans.
John Roberts, Consignia chief executive, had told the Commons trade committee that up to 30,000 jobs could be lost over 18 months as part of a drive to keep down costs.
Mr Keggie said this was "yet another slap in the face" for postal staff. "People now don't know if they will be in a job next year. Mr Roberts has caused a great deal of concern." The union leader disputed Consignia figures which showed turnover in the organisation was up to 20 per cent a year. "That may be the case in some parts of London but the national figure for natural wastage is 5.8 per cent," he said. Mr Keggie said the CWU would fight compulsory redundancies, and he asked the Department of Trade and Industry to intervene.
Mr Roberts denied any figure had been put on job losses before yesterday and said 30,000 was only "indicative" because the final total was not yet known. "I don't expect it to be higher than that. It could well be a lot less." Many employees would go through natural wastage and management hoped the rest could be made redundant on a voluntary basis.
It was "essential" that the postal service improved despite the cuts, Mr Roberts added. Consignia recently revealed an interim loss of £281m and has declared its intention to seek cutbacks worth £1.2bn.
The white-collar union MSF, which represents 15,000 managers at Consignia, called on the Government and the regulator Postcomm to deal with Consignia's financial crisis with "financial flexibility".
Leaders of the union urged suspension of Consignia's regular dividend payment to the Government in view of the projected losses and also for Postcomm, the postal regulator, to reconsider its opposition to a stamp-price increase. Such moves could provide £250m in short-term financial relief to help the organisation to address its problems, said Peter Skyte, a MSF national official. "Consignia needs a breathing space. While it now has to operate as a commercial business it also has to continue to provide a public and social service. The Government as sole shareholder and the regulator have key roles in this."
¿ Thousands of civil servants yesterday started a two-day nationwide strike at benefit offices and Jobcentres in protest at a scheme to remove security screens which protect them from angry claimants.
Mark Serwotka, general secretary-elect of the Public and Commercial Services union, accused managers of using intimidation tactics to try to dissuade staff from joining the strike, the first national stoppage at benefit offices and Jobcentres. He said there were more than 5,000 assaults on staff last year and in the past few weeks there have been baseball-bat attacks, a stabbing and a fire-bombing.
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