Page last updated at 16:40 GMT, Wednesday, 21 October 2009 17:40 UK

Leaders clash over postal dispute

Brown and Cameron on postal dispute

David Cameron has accused Gordon Brown of lacking the "courage and leadership" to intervene in the postal dispute to prevent two days of planned strikes.

Since plans to part-privatise Royal Mail had been shelved "union militancy has got worse," the Tory leader said.

Mr Brown said that had nothing to do with the dispute and urged unions and managers to agree a deal.

The Commons clash came hours before it was confirmed that national strikes would go ahead on Thursday and Friday.

In a press conference after a meeting of its postal executive, the Communication Workers' Union accused the government and Royal Mail of working together to scupper a deal.

CWU leader Billy Hayes accused Business Secretary Lord Mandelson of working hand in hand with Royal Mail management to sabotage the talks and called him the "minister without responsibility".

'Counter-productive'

At prime minister's questions, Mr Brown said the strike would be "counter-productive" for the business, its staff and the public.

This trade union can sense weakness and they see weakness in this prime minister and this government
David Cameron
Conservative leader

Politicians should be urging "negotiation and mediation," he said, adding: "It's in nobody's interest that this strike goes ahead."

But Mr Cameron accused the PM of dropping legislation to reform Royal Mail - which was strongly opposed by unions and Labour MPs - adding: "This trade union can sense weakness and they see weakness in this prime minister and this government."

Mr Brown said the bill, which would have sold off part of the Royal Mail, had "nothing to do with the dispute at the moment", which he said dated back to 2007.

'Condemn it'

The prime minister said the reason the plan had been halted was that there was no commercial buyer for the service - he also claimed a Conservative frontbencher had said they were not sure the Tories could sell it either, if they won power.

But Mr Cameron said his party would support the bill and asked why Mr Brown did not have "the guts" to bring it to the House of Commons.

"Since the government abandoned part-privatisation of the Royal Mail, union militancy has got worse," he said.

"You didn't stop the bill because you couldn't sell the Royal Mail. You stopped the bill because you couldn't sell it to your own backbenchers."

The 2007 modernisation is at the heart of this dispute and that is what's got to be moved forward. The bill is nothing to do with this dispute
Gordon Brown

Mr Cameron urged the prime minister to "condemn these strikes and join me in sending a direct message to the trade union to call this strike off".

But Mr Brown accused him of bringing industrial relations "into the political arena".

"It would be far better if the Conservative Party and other parties encouraged there to be negotiation and, if necessary, arbitration on this matter."

He told Mr Cameron: "I would urge you to reflect on your comments as to whether anything you are saying is making it easier for us to solve what is a difficult dispute."

'Clearly preposterous'

But Mr Cameron said the issue was already in the political arena as the CWU gave money to the Labour Party.

Later Lib Dem frontbencher Norman Baker told BBC Radio 4's World at One it was "mischievous" to suggest the strikes were linked to the decision to withdraw the bill.

But he said Mr Brown had "clearly" dropped the bill in the face of anger from his own backbenchers as it could have been taken through without a buyer so the legislation was in place when needed.

Welsh Secretary Peter Hain said it was "clearly preposterous" to link the strike and the dispute as it went back "years".

He warned that the dispute "threatens the future of the Royal Mail" and could result in "serious redundancies among the workforce" and said it could only be solved through negotiation.

Rail Maritime and Transport general secretary Bob Crow said the CWU was at the forefront of a fight to protect jobs, working conditions and pensions and said his members would join picket lines.

"We can all see the vultures of the private sector sniffing around the Royal Mail, looking for any opportunity to kill off the universal service and turn the post into a money-making racket that mirrors the experience on the railways."


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