The first national postal strike since the privatisation of Royal Mail is set to go ahead unless the company “significantly” shifts its line on pensions, job cuts and pay, union bosses have warned.
Blogging for HuffPost UK, Communication Workers Union (CWU) general secretary Dave Ward, said that a ballot for industrial action will take place if the deadlock isn’t broken in talks this week.
Royal Mail was privatised by the Tories four years ago, but is now facing major disruption to postal deliveries – including this year’s Christmas post - unless the union gets guarantees on staff pay and conditions.
At the heart of the dispute is the firm’s plan to change its £9.8 bn ‘defined benefit’ pension scheme to one that gives staff a cash lump sum, as well as moves to cut 3,000 jobs a year.
Ward said the union – which represents the bulk of the 142,000-strong workforce - also wants to reverse the Tory privatization and tackle unfair competition from courier firms.
“This week the CWU is in the final days of talks with Royal Mail management aimed at securing an agreement to avoid a major national industrial dispute,” he wrote.
“Unless Royal Mail significantly shift their position on pensions, pay, shorter working hours and its operational strategy, then CWU will ballot our members for industrial action in early September.”
The last nationwide strike by the CWU was in 2009 and prior to that Christmas stoppages were frequent when unions failed to see their demands met. A separate dispute with the Post Office saw several branches close last December.
After weeks of talks, the union’s patience appears to have worn thin. A deadline of September 6 is understood to have been earmarked for a new offer, with union members set to be balloted after that if no progress has been made.
Ward has long been a strong supporter of Jeremy Corbyn and the CWU – Britain’s fifth largest union – recently agreed to affiliate to grassroots movement Momentum.
Royal Mail insists its reforms of the pension scheme will still give staff “by far the best in the delivery industry”, but leaving it unreformed would add hugely to costs.
A spokesman said: “Royal Mail is very committed to actively negotiating with CWU on pay, pensions and other issues.
“We believe there are no grounds for industrial action. Any potential ballot in the future does not mean there will be industrial action. Industrial action – or the threat of it – undermines the trust of our customers.”
The firm adds that it is one of very few companies paying more in pension contributions than in dividends. Since privatization in 2013, Royal Mail has paid £1.4billion into employees’ pensions, compared to £800million in dividends to shareholders, including staff.
The company argues that Royal Mail under public ownership it could not borrow money from the capital market without increasing public debt. It says vital technology investment, part of £1.5bn injected since privatisation, was needed to fend off competition.