Page last updated at 16:23 GMT, Thursday, 5 November 2009

Fresh hope of postal dispute deal

Earlier strikes caused a backlog of 35 million letters, Royal Mail said.

A third round of postal strikes may be avoided, union sources have told the BBC.

The sources said a possible deal was on the table. Royal Mail is not commenting on the speculation.

The latest planned industrial action, scheduled for Friday and Monday, would be more disruptive than previous rounds as it would be an all-out strike.

At the heart of the dispute is union concerns over the extent of job cuts, and conditions for staff who remain.

Thursday's meeting includes the Communication Workers Union's (CWU's) Postal Executive - the union body that has the power to call off strikes. A statement is expected later.

'Period of calm'

The BBC's Greg Wood is at the TUC headquarters where the talks are taking place. He said that even if the strike is called off, it does not mean that the dispute has been resolved.

An agreement on a national level does not necessarily mean an agreement on a local level
David Stubbs, Europe Economics

Instead it would amount to "a framework for proper talks, instituting a period of calm during which they can take place".

Postal expert David Stubbs, from Europe Economics, said: "An agreement on a national level does not necessarily mean an agreement on a local level...and that could sow the seeds for a future dispute."

He said that one of the issues was the relationship of unions at national level and its members at local level.

Royal Mail is trying to modernise to compensate for letter volumes dropping by 10% every year as people switch to other forms of communication such as e-mails and texts.

It has shed 63,000 frontline postal staff in recent years, and says it needs to cut more jobs as part of continuing modernisation plans.

The CWU agrees that job cuts are necessary, but disagrees over their extent, and over the future pay and working conditions of the workers that continue to be employed.


There is still a three million letter backlog from last week's strikes, half of which are in London, according to Royal Mail.

In total it estimated that the action caused 35 million letters to be delayed. Unions claimed the figure was nearer to 60 million.

If the talks are unsuccessful, the CWU will go to court on Friday to try to prevent the Royal Mail from using agency workers during the industrial action.

Royal Mail has denied that employing the 30,000 extra staff is an attempt to break the strike, but instead to deal with the backlog and the Christmas rush.

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