Thousands of postal workers have begun a 48-hour strike after talks between Royal Mail and the Communication Workers Union (CWU) ended without agreement.
The dispute centres on pay and working conditions with the company explaining in a statement that it had offered staff a 9% pay rise over 18 months, was committing to make Sunday working voluntary, and would make no compulsory redundancies before March next year.
However, Royal Mail’s subsequent imposition of a 2% pay rise for staff was completely insufficient, said the CWU, given rises in the cost of living. The union said its mandate for strike action was overwhelming, with 97.6% in favour of the strike on a 77% turnout when the ballot was held in the summer. With an operating profit of £758m in the past financial year, the union maintains the company can offer a far higher salary rise to combat the effect of inflation.
Royal Mail though has said it had made its “best and final offer” and accused the union of “holding Christmas to ransom”.
Industrial action will take place on Thursday and Friday this week with further stoppages planned for 30 November and 1 December and on six days in December, including Christmas Eve.
“We want to reach a deal, but time is running out for the CWU to change their position and avoid further damaging strike action,” Royal Mail’s chief executive Simon Thompson said, adding that the firm was in financial peril.
The CWU represents 115,000 workers at Royal Mail. They fear that the company is going to turn them into “gig-economy-style couriers” as it turns away from letter deliveries to more profitable parcel-delivery operations. Last month the workers rejected a 7% pay offer over two years.
In 2021 the Royal Mail leadership and CWU agreed on a document outlining the future vision of the Royal Mail. The Pathway To Change 2021 document stated: “We all know that our industry is in a time of unprecedented change and this brings with it enormous opportunities to achieve the ambitions of our previous agreements and deliver growth in customer services, jobs and revenue.
“To make this happen we must now rebalance the focus and resources within the RMG operation from declining letters to a rapidly growing parcels market, creating a more efficient business that is better aligned to the changing needs of customers.”
Royal Mail says eight days of strike action has cost it £100m while striking posties have each lost, on average, £1,000.
The union has criticised Royal Mail’s “aggressive” stance during the talks and called for an improved pay deal, a guarantee of no compulsory redundancies and other improvements to the offer. It has accused the company of reneging on Pathway to Change, saying it had begun to “impose changes without negotiation and without agreement”.
CWU general secretary Dave Ward said the offer represented a “devastating blow” to postal workers’ livelihoods and urged the public to “stand with their postie”.
“These proposals spell the end of Royal Mail as we know it, and its degradation from a national institution into an unreliable, Uber-style gig economy company,” he said.