In Depth

Royal Mail seeks injunction to block December strike

Company bosses say union put ‘pressure’ on members to back planned action during general election

Post office

Royal Mail bosses are seeking a High Court injunction to stop staff from striking in December, citing “potential irregularities” in the the ballot of workers.

The postal service claims that the ballot was “unlawful and, therefore, null and void” - and says there is evidence of members of the Communications Workers Union (CWU) coming under pressure to vote “yes” to strike action.

Members were “encouraged to open their ballot papers on site, mark them as ‘yes’ with their colleagues present and filming or photographing them doing so, before posting their ballots together at their workplace postboxes”, according to the company.

Royal Mail rules say that workers can’t open their post at delivery offices unless they have prior authorisation from their manager.

The CWU says it “refutes” the claims.

The bid to prevent the strike action comes amid fears that the walkout could not only delay Christmas deliveries but also disrupt postal voting for the 12 December general election.

The union had previously pointed out that the ballot on strike action was held weeks before the election date was chosen, and says no decision has been made on whether the strike will go ahead.

According to the London Evening Standard, CWU trade union official Gary Clark said: “They won’t only say we stole Christmas, which they will do, we’ll probably steal Brexit off them as well.”

A High Court hearing regarding Royal Mail’s application for an injunction is likely to be heard early next week.

Why are postal workers striking?

Postal workers last month voted overwhelmingly in favour of striking in a dispute over job security and employment terms and conditions.

In a result announced on 15 October, CWU members backed industrial action by 97%. The vote came after the union said Royal Mail was not sticking to an agreement reached in 2018 covering a wide range of issues, including plans to reduce the working week, as well as job security.

Royal Mail workers are also demanding an increase in the bonuses they receive for the extra workload caused by an election. At the 2017 election, they got an average bonus of £267 each, but the CWU is demanding an increase, The Telegraph reports.

The Guardian notes that “industrial relations at the company have worsened this year, with widespread unofficial strikes breaking out virtually every week”.

How could the strike disrupt the election?

Concerns have been raised that industrial action by postal workers during the election could make postal voting more difficult. The Telegraph reports that election officials have warned people planning to vote by post to “consider whether to opt for a proxy vote instead, amid fears millions of votes could go uncounted”.

Royal Mail says it wrote to the CWU urging the union not to “threaten the integrity of our democracy” by going ahead with the December strike.

The company also says it will enter into discussions with the union if it provides a “binding commitment” to remove the threat of strike action. The CWU is believed to have rejected that offer.

Shane O’Riordain, Royal Mail managing director of regulation and corporate affairs, has promised that “election mail will be our No. 1 priority” in the event of a strike.

He added: “We will invest significant resources to seek to ensure a seamless process for the handling of postal election material. 

“Royal Mail volunteers will also work on the processing and delivery of election mail.”

What has the row got to do with politics?

The union movement is a longstanding supporter of the Labour Party. Indeed, unions donated £6.2m to Labour during the 2017 general election, and the Unite group is the party’s single biggest donor.

During an interview earlier this year, CWU general secretary Dave Ward said that getting Labour elected would be “the biggest thing that will change people’s lives in this country”.

However, the union’s deputy general secretary, Terry Pullinger, has dismissed Leadsom’s claims the upcoming industrial action is designed to help the opposition party as “ridiculous”.

What happens next?

The CWU has not confirmed that the strike will go ahead and has only voted for the possibility of strike action.

Meanwhile, Royal Mail says that it is negotiating a meeting with the CWU to discuss the union’s requests, with the focus on an increase in the bonuses paid to postal staff during an election.

The company has told the union that if the threat of industrial action is removed for the rest of 2019, Royal Mail will enter talks without conditions. But the CWU has called the offer a “stunt”, says the BBC.

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