Page last updated at 22:41 GMT, Thursday, 5 November 2009

Royal Mail strikes are called off


Brendan Barber: "After intensive negotiations an agreement has been reached"

The postal strikes have been called off until at least the New Year to allow for fresh talks between Royal Mail and the Communication Workers Union.

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said the decision had been made to provide "a period of calm" in which the two sides could reach a long-term deal.

He said that meant Royal Mail deliveries would be "free of any disruption" over Christmas.

However Mr Barber said that securing a final deal remained a long way away.

He was speaking after the TUC helped to broker the agreement between the two sides to end the strike action.

The industrial dispute has been over the level of job losses the Royal Mail says are necessary as part of its modernisation plans.

While the CWU accepts that some redundancies are required, the two sides disagree over their extent.

They also disagree over changes to pay and working conditions for Royal Mail staff that remain in their jobs.

'Work hard'

CWU deputy general secretary Dave Ward said the decision to end the strike action had been unanimously agreed by its executive board.

Lord Mandelson
It's important that both sides now keep talking about the next phase of modernisation which is vital for the company's future
Business Secretary Lord Mandelson

"We can now have a period of calm where we hope we can genuinely take forward modernisation in a way that puts the union at the centre," he said.

Yet he added that the union recognised the forthcoming negotiations would be difficult, saying the dispute had been "bitter".

"It will take exceptional efforts to rebuild trust," he said. "But we will work very hard to ensure that the agreement stays on track."

Royal Mail managing director Mark Higson said he now looked forward "to positive and constructive discussions on the next stage of Royal Mail's modernisation plan".

"I'm delighted for our customers and our people that we've got back to a sensible agreement with the CWU that will allow us to deliver a great Christmas while getting on with the vital talks about the longer term future of Royal Mail," he added.

Legal action

The CWU also confirmed that it was not now pressing ahead with its legal challenge to the Royal Mail over its policy of employing temporary workers to deal with the postal backlog.

Christmas deliveries will now be unaffected

It had previously been due to go to the High Court on Friday, accusing Royal Mail of using the temporary staff to try to break the strike, something Royal Mail strongly denied.

Mr Ward also issued a fresh plea for the government to help tackle the Royal Mail's £10bn pension fund deficit, saying that until that problem was dealt with, it would be difficult to overcome the "challenges" ahead.

Although the government owns Royal Mail, it has so far refused to get involved with the pension issue.

'Keep talking'

Business Secretary Lord Mandelson said he welcomed the news that further strikes had been called off.

"It's important that both sides now keep talking about the next phase of modernisation which is vital for the company's future," he said.

"Strikes do nothing to help Royal Mail, its business, its future prospects and of course the jobs and livelihoods of those who work in Royal Mail."

Until the latest announcements, CWU members had held five 24-hour strikes over the past two weeks, which involved members in different roles striking on different days.

The strikes that had been planned for Friday and Monday were to be all-out action involving up to 121,000 union members on each day.

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