“Forward ever, backward never: onwards with Breaking Through”

Does this mean no strikes before Christmas?

 Royal Mail won a High Court Injunction declaring the strike call to be unlawful and saying that the CWU is obliged to withdraw its strike call until the external mediation process has been exhausted. You can read more about it on this article which will be updated as more news comes through. So what happens next?

The Agenda for Growth

The CWU and Royal Mail both signed the Agenda for Growth at the time Royal Mail was privatised. This legally binding agreement set out what would happen in the event the two parties couldn’t reach an agreement and we reproduce the “External Mediation” section below this article. Picking through the agreement we can set out a timeline to indicate the earliest possible date that the CWU could call strikes deemed to be lawful by the High Court.

The External Mediation Timeline

The Appointment of an external Mediator – At least 1 week

  1. An external mediator will be appointed by ACAS.

Submissions – At least 2, possibly up to 4 weeks

  1. Both Royal Mail and the CWU will put forward a representative to help the mediator to understand the issues in question and will provide all the evidence and a clear statement of the issues in dispute.

Mediator to make recommendations – Time 2 weeks

  1. Within two weeks of having received all submissions the mediator will produce non-binding recommendations.

Royal Mail and CWU will meet – Time 1 week

  1. Within one week of the recommendations being made the CWU and Royal Mail will meet to review the outcome and decide their response. If at this time agreement is met then the dispute ends and recommendations immediately implemented.

Failure to agree – Time 2 Weeks

  1. If either party is unable to accept the mediators recommendations then a further 2 week period is prescribed for further negotiations. The disagreeing party is expected to advise the reasons for rejecting the recommendations and their alternative suggestions.

Further failure to agree

  1. If by this stage agreement hasn’t been met then the parties will write to each other to notify of their intentions. It is at this point that the CWU could notify Royal Mail of their lawful intention to call for strikes

Minimum 7 weeks before industrial action by Postal Workers

Picking through the timeline there are at least 7 weeks of prescribed mediation activities which must take place before a postal strike will be deemed lawful. Starting today this takes us up to the 16th of November. However, in reality, the process will take considerably longer as it can’t truly get underway until a mediator is appointed.

Will the mediation process be completed in 7 weeks?

Doubtless the CWU will want the process to be as speedy as possible as there will be considerably less impacts from postal workers industrial action after Christmas. In addition the CWU are on a time line as their ballot is only valid for 6 months at which time they would have to reballot postal workers if they wished to stage further industrial action.
There is plenty of wiggle room for Royal Mail to delay proceedings and they have indicated that the process could last until after or at least close to Christmas. The Agenda for Growth agreement doesn’t specify how long various stages (such as submitting evidence) should take. One might expect an independent mediator to insist that the process be relatively speedy but that is still open to interpretation and stalling tactics.
It would appear unlikely that the mediation process will be completed within anything close to 5 weeks and both the CWU and Royal Mail acknowledge it will be at least a seven week process, but the clock doesn’t even start ticking until a mediator is appointed.

Does this mean no strikes before Christmas?

There are a number of things that could now happen outside the mediation process. The CWU are doubtless considering an appeal to the High Court injunction, which if overturned would clear the way for strikes. It’s also a possibility that the CWU would call for illegal strikes in which case we have no idea that the ramifications would be.
Terry Pullinger of the CWU, speaking outside the court today, suggested that the process would be completed within seven weeks meaning that a likely earliest date for strikes would be around the 1st of December.
ARoyal Mail spokesperson told us: “Royal Mail is very committed to working closely with the CWU in order to reach agreement as a matter of priority“.
The first step of the mediation process is to appoint a mediator. Royal Mail are currently working together with the CWU to appoint a joint external mediator. Once the mediator has been appointed, Royal Mail say that there is a minimum seven week process to go through.

The ‘Agenda for Growth’ agreement between Royal Mail and the CWU

5.4 External Mediation

External Mediation will apply in the following circumstances:
  • If a local disagreement remains unresolved after Stage 3 of the IR Framework there will be 7 days for national intervention, after which it will automatically be referred immediately for external mediation.
  • Where the national parties fail to reach agreement on a point of principle relating to existing agreements that has been referred to them, it will be referred for external mediation after a period not exceeding one month from it being initially tabled by either party.
  • Where there is a national disagreement relating to a matter that is not covered by existing collective agreements, it will be similarly referred if an agreed way forward is not found within one month.
  • Where unballoted industrial action continues beyond 48 hours.
The External Mediator will be appointed from a jointly agreed panel managed by ACAS and will have no other connection with Royal Mail or the CWU. The mediator will be provided with all relevant papers and evidence, together with clear statements from each party on the issue that is in dispute and on which a recommendation is sought. Both Royal Mail and CWU will provide a representative to work with the Mediator to assist in understanding the issue in dispute, the background and the implications of any decision before it is made.
In considering the dispute and making recommendations, the External Mediator will take account of any regulatory and legal requirements, the terms and spirit of the Agenda for Growth, Stability and Long Term Success Agreement, other relevant national agreements, the needs of customers, the universal service obligation, and the need for appropriate efficiency supported by a climate of sustainable trust and collaborative decision making.
The External Mediator will produce recommendations within two weeks of having received all relevant papers and having met the representatives of each party. Although the recommendations from the mediator are nonbinding the expectation is that both parties will use the mediator’s recommendations to resolve their differences. The parties will meet within one week of the mediator’s recommendations to review the outcome and confirm their response. If they both agree, the resolution arising from the recommendations will be implemented without further delay. If one or both parties are unable to agree in whole or in part with the recommendations, they will advise the other of the reasons for this, indicate what they are prepared to agree instead and there will then be a further two weeks during which there is a final opportunity to reach agreement before the process is concluded.
In the event that the process concludes without agreement, the parties will write to each other to notify their intentions.
The parties may agree to extend any of the timescales above by agreement.