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Last Updated: Saturday, 1 November, 2003, 11:07 GMT
Q&A: Wildcat postal strikes
Postal staff have been staging a series of unofficial strikes in London and now elsewhere, which have been seriously disrupting deliveries.

BBC News Online explains what is happening, how bad the disruption is, and when it can be expected to improve.

What has been happening?

Sporadic strikes began breaking out in pockets across London and surrounding areas about a fortnight ago.

In the last week they have spread further afield, and areas now affected include Chelmsford, Colchester, Coventry, Maidstone, Milton Keynes, Oxford, Portsmouth, Slough, Southend, and Swindon.

In London, more than two-thirds of Royal Mail's 28,000-strong workforce in the capital are out on strike.

How badly has post been disrupted?

Services in London have been severely disrupted.

Millions of items are stuck in a backlog, post boxes are now being sealed up, and Royal Mail is advising people not to post letters at all.

Special Delivery services have also been suspended across the capital.

Parcelforce is unaffected, so parcels can be posted as usual.

Does this affect me if I don't live in London?

It does now.

About a fifth of the nation's mail passes through London, so knock-on effects are inevitable.

Apart from that, the actual wildcat action has been spreading.

Services, including Special Delivery services, are extremely disrupted in several cities including several Milton Keynes MK postcodes, all Oxford O postcodes, Coventry CV postcodes and Portsmouth PO postcodes.

Swindon and Slough are also badly affected, while walkouts with a lesser impact have spread as far afield as Wishaw in Lanarkshire, Warrington in Cheshire, Stoke-on-Trent in Staffordshire and Cambridge.

What it is all about?

The strikes have, on the face of it, been sparked by a wide variety of issues, from a dead rat in a lavatory to the suspension of a union representative.

But it appears resentment is still simmering following a threatened national strike, and two actual strikes in London, over pay and conditions earlier this year.

The Communications Workers' Union (CWU) said management was trying to force through changes in working practices, but Royal Mail denies this.

Royal Mail chief executive Adam Crozier has even blamed union activists for orchestrating the action to try to force a better pay offer.

At the weekend, a bitter slanging match between the two sides began, blaming each other for intimidation and bullying.

Didn't postal staff decide not to strike earlier this year?

They did, narrowly. Analysts say many CWU members remain unhappy over pay and conditions.

Also, the picture in London is quite different.

In that last ballot, workers in London overwhelmingly backed action over pay, and went on to hold two 24-hour official strikes earlier this month.

The Royal Mail has not improved its offer since then.

Are staff and bosses trying to resolve the problem?

Even though these latest strikes are not officially endorsed by the CWU, the union is negotiating with Royal Mail management.

Royal Mail chiefs and union leaders have met for several days running, but so far no agreement has been reached.

On Saturday the CWU accused Royal Mail of sending junior negotiators to the talks, and not taking them seriously.

Both sides are due to go to conciliation service Acas on Monday.




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