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BBC NI's Annita McVeigh reports
"Deliveries in Belfast have been disputed"
 real 28k

Monday, 4 December, 2000, 23:09 GMT
Strike prompts Christmas post fears

Letters are posted in hope of a resolution to the dispute
Fears are growing about serious disruption to the Christmas post after Royal Mail workers in Northern Ireland voted to continue with strike action.

The dispute, which now involves about 1,000 workers, centres on the introduction 10 weeks ago of new working practices involving different methods of processing mail.

There is a backlog of more than a million items of unsorted mail as a result of the action which began last Thursday.

It is absolutely unacceptable for employees to hold the business to ransom in this way

Royal Mail

Talks aimed at resolving the dispute broke up on Monday night without agreement. They will resume on Tuesday.

Earlier, workers rejected proposals put forward jointly by Royal Mail management and the Communications Workers' Union leaders and opted to continue their strike.

According to Royal Mail, the proposals had the support of the union representatives, but did not win the approval of the workers.

On Monday morning, Royal Mail accused the striking workers of "holding the business to ransom".

In a statement it said: "It is absolutely unacceptable for employees to hold the business to ransom in this way, over additional sorting work, which does not take them over the hours which they are paid to work."

Royal Mail added that the work was "designed to respond to customer demand for earlier morning deliveries".

The worst hit areas have been north, south and west Belfast where there have been practically no deliveries since the strike began.

However, a Royal Mail spokeswoman said there was now a "reduced volume of mail going out for deliveries across the province".

Working patterns

The strike began when 500 workers at Royal Mail's main sorting centre in Mallusk, Newtownabbey, joined about 250 other members of staff in Belfast city centre who had walked out.

Post office managers and union representatives have spent the last few days meeting at Royal Mail's Tomb Street offices in the city in an attempt to resolve the dispute.

Royal Mail said the key issue was the "need to make use of unproductive time between deliveries" so that customers had mail delivered earlier in the morning.

The company said the changes which had been made still "enabled postmen to finish prior to the time to which they were paid".

However, the Communication Workers' Union said the dispute centres on delivery staff being asked to clear mail left over from the night shift.
Peter Hamill: Workers
Peter Hamill: Workers "do not want to be on strike"

It said its members wanted to get back to work and have accused the management of "intransigence".

Spokesman Peter Hamill said: "They do not want to be out on strike.

"They want to go back and restore the service as the public would expect. But at this moment in time, the proposals that management gave us have been rejected."

Both sides in the dispute have said they will do their best to bring a quick solution to the dispute.

However, Thursday is the deadline for post going outside Europe to be guaranteed to reach its destination in time for Christmas.

Meanwhile, special arrangements are in place for people due to receive benefit cheques from the Social Security Agency on Tuesday.

They can be collected from local offices that afternoon.

Royal Mail has a customer help line for anyone seeking further information on deliveries. The number is: 0845 7740 740.

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See also:

04 Dec 00 | Northern Ireland
Postal strike talks resume
02 Dec 00 | Northern Ireland
Still no agreement in postal dispute
26 Nov 99 | Scotland
Anger over postal strike vote
08 Oct 99 | Scotland
Reinstatement ends postal dispute
01 Sep 99 | The Economy
Postal workers reject pay package
17 Nov 00 | Scotland
Post peace talks end
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