Page last updated at 12:36 GMT, Thursday, 22 October 2009 13:36 UK

Brown urges end to postal strike

Mail strike 'self-defeating' says Brown

The prime minister has called on Royal Mail and the Communication Workers Union (CWU) to "get round the table" to bring an end to industrial action.

"This strike will be self-defeating if all it means is that less people use the Royal Mail," Gordon Brown said.

He was speaking after the start of the first nationwide postal strike in two years, which began at 0400 BST.

Meanwhile, the BBC has learned that three strike days will be announced for next week. The CWU declined to comment.

The CWU has said it may make an announcement on further developments later, but had previously said that it would be announcing plans for further strike action.

The news came as about 42,000 mail centre staff and drivers staged a 24-hour strike.

STORY SO FAR...
Postal workers, especially in London, have been holding intermittent one-day strikes for months in a row over the way Royal Mail is to be modernised
Earlier this month, postal workers voted three to one in favour of nationwide industrial action (though Royal Mail said 60% of the total number of postal workers in the UK did not vote to strike)
The CWU set dates for the first nationwide postal strikes in two years
Last-gasp talks failed to reach an agreement and indeed the split between the union and Royal Mail management became more acrimonious

On Friday, about 78,000 delivery and collection workers are expected to walk out.

Union leaders have blamed Business Secretary Lord Mandelson and Royal Mail chiefs for the failure to reach a deal.

But ministers say the suggestion that an agreement was vetoed is "fantasy".

"This strike is solvable and I believe that management and workforce can resolve it," said Mr Brown.

'Vindictive'

Dave Ward, CWU deputy leader, said his message to Royal Mail and Lord Mandelson was to "get your hands dirty" and meet the union at the conciliation service Acas.

He also criticised Lord Mandelson, describing his actions as "vindictive".

The business secretary said that trading insults would not help resolve the dispute.

"Politicising it or dramatising it is absolutely useless," Lord Mandelson said.

"I'm not sure that my intervening would be welcome by both sides. Both sides within the Royal Mail itself need to resolve this."

'Period of calm'

David Ward of the Communication Workers Union urges management to meet for talks

Royal Mail condemned the strikes, calling them "damaging".

"We had an agreement with the CWU drafted on Tuesday night, around midnight," said Paul Tolhurst, operations director at Royal Mail.

"We were expecting frankly for these strikes to be called off and for a period of calm."

He added that the company had had more than 80 meetings with the CWU.

"There are huge areas where we both agree on what we need to do. There are some areas we still need to work on," he said.

The decision to go ahead with strike action came after several meetings between Royal Mail and the union this week.

Some companies, including John Lewis and Amazon, have said they are using alternative delivery services.

Delivery is absolutely key for online retailers, and customers need to be confident that their orders will arrive in time for Christmas
Graham Charlton, econsultancy.com

The Federation of Small Businesses estimates that 70% of the 4.8 million small firms in the UK rely on the Royal Mail for their post. It says that every postal strike costs its members, who have up to 20 staff, £300 each.

The FSB's Stephen Alambritas said that his members were struggling to find alternatives to the Royal Mail.

"Our members have tried to shift to other companies - they've found them expensive and actually a number of them have been turned away because the other service providers can't meet the demand," he told the BBC.

Views from postal strike picket lines

"We really want these postal workers and the Royal Mail to get back to work."

If the strikes continue for a prolonged period, contingency plans for delivery of hospital appointments and medical test results have been drawn up, MPs were told earlier this week.

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

Peaceful pickets

Postal workers formed picket lines outside 37 mail centres in the UK.

Colin Elcome, on a picket line in Cardiff, said the workers had terms and conditions to protect, as well as an industry and a public service.

"A lot of this is payback time because we defeated them on privatisation. Rather than building the industry up and the public service up, it seems that some of them want to smash it into the ground," he said.

Royal Mail says union 'walked away'

There were about 20 people - including pickets and supporters - outside the Royal Mail's Mount Pleasant sorting office in London.

The mood was peaceful, with no sign of any tension or police presence, correspondents said.

About 20 people had gathered outside a sorting office in Leeds, while police watched about 30 workers staging a protest at Liverpool's main sorting office.

Delivery vans could be seen entering and leaving the Birmingham mail centre, despite the strike and the presence of about 40 workers demonstrating with banners.

'Wreckage'

The Conservatives said a complete change of culture was needed.

HAVE YOUR SAY
I won't have any junk mail
Marion Monahan, Bristol

"This is the second strike in two years," said shadow business secretary Kenneth Clarke.

"It's driving all the business away against a background where they were losing business already."

He added that a Conservative government would privatise Royal Mail.

"We will make a fresh start with private capital, bringing in some expertise and trying to put this company back on its feet again, whatever the wreckage we inherit," he said.



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