Royal Mail is seeking a high court injunction to stop a planned 48-hour strike by postal workers after the Communication Workers Union did not meet a midday deadline to withdraw industrial action.Members of the CWU voted overwhelmingly in favour of strikes last week and are to take action on 19 October. Staff could also stage walkouts during the Black Friday retail sales event next month or during the festive season.
If the strike over pensions, pay and jobs goes ahead, it would be the first national walkout since Royal Mail was privatised four years ago.
Royal Mail said the CWU had missed a Monday deadline to remove the threat and agree to peace talks. The company claims that, under an agreement with the union, the CWU must enter mediation with Royal Mail before embarking on industrial action. The CWU, in turn, claims that it has been attempting to find a solution to the dispute for 18 months.
The company has written to the CWU, invoking a “legally binding external mediation process”, and reiterated that any industrial action would be unlawful.
Royal Mail said: “The company requested that CWU withdraw its notification of industrial action by 12 noon today and commit to following the dispute resolution procedures.
“CWU has declined to withdraw its notification. As a result, Royal Mail will today lodge an application with the high court for an injunction to prevent industrial action so that the contractual external mediation process can be followed.”
A week ago, 89% of the CWU’s 111,000 workers backed a walkout, with 74% of members turning out to vote. The vote was a major test for the union after the introduction of the Trade Union Act, which requires strike ballots to have a 50% turnout.
The ballot came amid a flurry of union activity this autumn as public sector and health workers discuss the possibilities of industrial action.
Dave Ward, the CWU general secretary, said: “The fact Royal Mail Group have tried multiple angles to stop our members exercising their democratic right to take strike action shows how desperate they are. Instead of playing courtroom politics they should be listening to the overwhelming ballot result. We call on the public and businesses across the country to back their postal workers in what was always going to be a watershed dispute.”
A spokesperson for Royal Mail said the company had contingency plans in place should the strike go ahead and would “do everything we can to minimise any disruption to our customers”. He said the company was committed to further talks to reach agreement with the CWU. “There are no grounds for industrial action. We want to reach agreement.”
The company insisted that it was “making a very good offer on pay” – continuing to provide the “best pay and terms and conditions in the industry” alongside a proposal for a pension scheme that “compares favourably to other large employers”.
The spokesperson said: “We are not proposing to change our core terms and conditions or our commitment to a predominantly permanent workforce. Many competitors pay around the national living wage. Royal Mail pays 45%-50% more than this.”