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The BBC's Karen Bowerman
"Now there are delays at sorting offices"
 real 56k

Wednesday, 6 December, 2000, 15:35 GMT
Strikes threaten Christmas mail
Rail delays have already hit postal services
Christmas postal deliveries, already hampered by disruption on the railways, may be further delayed by strike action.

Unofficial industrial action over the past eight days in south Wales spread to Oxfordshire and the west of England where staff were angered by having to deal with a backlog of mail which should have been sorted in Cardiff.

Christmas posting deadlines
First Class: 21 December
Second Class: 18 December
Staff in Oxford announced on Wednesday afternoon that they would return to work, following negotiations and the news that the Cardiff dispute had been resolved overnight.

But there are fears that clearing the backlog caused by the strikes could affect deliveries at the busiest time of the year for the Royal Mail.

'Post early' advice

Postal services in south Wales were severely affected by the Cardiff strike which began when 1,000 postal workers at the Penarth Road depot walked out a week ago.

The action followed a dispute over the use of casual staff to help tackle the Christmas rush.

But the Royal Mail and the Communications Workers' Union reached an agreement to end the strike on Wednesday following overnight negotiations in London.

Sorting office
200m items a day are handled ahead of Christmas
Ninian Le Blanc, Royal Mail Area Manager for south-east Wales, said: "We are very pleased that this unlawful dispute has now been brought to an end.

"This is a vote for common sense and one that means we can now get on with the job of restoring service to our customers."

A six-day strike in Belfast ended on Tuesday.

And a dispute which threatens to disrupt Christmas mail in Edinburgh, Fife and the Lothians is nearing a settlement, according to the Communication Workers Union.

Ballot papers for strike action were sent to about 3,000 employees amid allegations of bullying tactics by management.

Talks progress

Union spokesman Derek Dirkin said progress had been made in talks with Royal Mail.

"There are a couple of details being tidied up which we are confident will be finalised before the end of this week," he added.

On the whole the mail is moving - we sincerely hope Christmas deliveries won't be affected

Royal Mail spokeswoman
"If we get that settled hopefully we will not have to use the ballot."

Royal Mail says it handles up to 200 million items per day during the pre-Christmas period - more than double its usual rate of 75 million items per day.

The last date for posting first class letters is 21 December and second class letters should be sent by 18 December.

But Royal Mail is already advising customers to post a day earlier than this because of disruption to the rail network.

A spokeswoman for Royal Mail said it was hoped the knock on effects of the industrial action could be minimised.

"The mail has been re-routed and sorted elsewhere, on the whole the mail is moving," she said.

"We sincerely hope the Christmas deliveries won't be affected."

In order to deal with delays on the railways, Royal Mail has increased its use of planes to transport mail and brought an extra 2,000 vans into service.

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See also:

06 Dec 00 | Northern Ireland
Postal staff back to work
06 Dec 00 | Wales
Postal strike to end
04 Dec 00 | Northern Ireland
Strike prompts Christmas post fears
01 Dec 00 | Business
Return to 50m senders
17 Nov 00 | Scotland
Post peace talks end
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