Page last updated at 23:02 GMT, Tuesday, 20 October 2009 00:02 UK

UK postal strike 'self-defeating'

Nationwide strikes are scheduled for Thursday and Friday

A nationwide postal strike would be "totally self-defeating", Business Secretary Peter Mandelson has said.

Industrial action would not resolve the dispute but simply drive customers away from Royal Mail and could "irrevocably damage" its reputation, he added.

The Communication and Workers Union accused Lord Mandelson of interfering.

A second day of talks between Royal Mail and the CWU has ended as they try to avert two planned 24-hour strikes - the first due to start on Thursday.

Royal Mail says it is willing to go to conciliation service Acas but only if postal staff call off their strike.

Union sources say there is no sign yet of a breakthrough ahead of the first strike

But the BBC's Martin Shankleman said that some observers felt the length of the session - the second bout of 12-hour talks in two days - suggested there might be grounds for optimism.

Finance concern

Lord Mandelson said that some customers who wanted to deliver parcels were already turning to rival firms.

"Royal Mail's finances will be plunged into the red... one thing this company cannot afford is strikes and industrial action," he told the House of Lords.

The strikes could also put small firms at risk just at a time when economic conditions appeared to be improving, Lord Mandelson added.

Avoiding strikes was "in the interests of Royal Mail, its employees and its customers", he said.

EXPECTED STRIKE DISRUPTION

22 October: Limited processing, movement and collection of mail

23 October: Limited delivery and collection of mail

Some managerial staff and contract drivers will be brought in to move mail but services will be "very limited"

Special Delivery and Royal Mail Tracked items will still be delivered on strike days

Post Office branches will be open as usual although collections will be affected

Parcelforce will operate as normal as it has its own collection, distribution and delivery network

Customers should check the Royal Mail website or call 08457 740 740 for the latest service information
Source: Royal Mail

The CWU said the business secretary's comments "would damage the talks".

"While the CWU and Royal Mail management are working hard to reach an agreement, Lord Mandelson is misrepresenting the facts to Parliament and undermining any progress being made," it added.

If the strikes did go ahead for a prolonged period, contingency plans for delivery of hospital appointments and medical test results were being drawn up, the Lords were told.

Earlier it emerged that the Ministry of Defence may charter extra aircraft to ensure serving troops get their Christmas post.

Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth told the Commons there would also be "increased resources dedicated to mail movement" within Afghanistan but added "prolonged industrial action" would "inevitably" hit deliveries.

Royal Mail is in dispute with the CWU over pay, conditions and modernisation plans.

The company says it is trying hard to reach an agreement.

'Unjustified and irresponsible'

Acas has appointed a trouble-shooter who is on stand-by to step in and facilitate peace talks in the event of a breakthrough.

But BBC correspondent Martin Shankleman said Royal Mail's insistence that it would go to Acas only if the union called off its strikes was a stumbling block.

The talks between the two sides came after CWU general secretary Billy Hayes described Royal Mail's decision to hire up to 30,000 temporary workers to help deal with the effects of strike action as "a stupid move" that could inflame the dispute.

Royal Mail will be hiring double the 15,000 temporary staff it usually takes on before Christmas.

Management said the extra workers would cut the impact of "unjustified and irresponsible" industrial action.

The extra workers will deal with the backlog caused by the strikes as well as helping with the Christmas rush.

Employing extra people to do the work of staff who are on strike is illegal under employment law.

Royal Mail said the recruitment drive was not about bringing in workers to do the work of striking staff, but to ensure there were enough staff to clear any backlogs between walkouts, as well as tackle the seasonal increase in mail volume.

On Thursday, mail centre staff and drivers are planning to strike. The next day it will be delivery and collection staff.



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