The Royal Mail look set to strike as early as October 10, which could potentially force the Government to delay any plans to privatize Royal Mail until the New Year.
The Communication Workers Union said 125,000 of its members will be balloted over pay, jobs, pensions and the impact of any sell-off.
Royal Mail said industrial action, or the possibility of disruption, was damaging to the business, especially in the run-up to Christmas – it’s busiest time.
The Government has also said that the news will not alter its decision to sell shares in Royal Mail in this financial year.
All Royal Mail and ParcelForce works in the CWU will be balloted from September 20, with the result due on October 3. If there is a yes vote, the union would have to give 7 days’ notice of strike action.
It will be the first national postal ballot since the pay and conditions dispute in 2009, when millions of letters and parcels were caught up in the stoppages.
The cost to the business could run into hundreds of millions of pounds. The strike could hit Christmas shoppers as people are more likely to shop online early and get better deals.
Graeme Leach, chief economist at the Institute of Directors, said: “Strike action would be unjustified, highly irresponsible and would hit businesses hard.
“It would serve only to undermine the reputation of the Royal Mail at a time when the focus should be on making the most of the privatisation process.”
The CWU said that the strike was “inevitable” unless a deal was agreed on a number of issues, including pay, changes to pension scheme, the impact of privatisation on job security and terms and conditions, and the company’s future strategy.
Dave Ward, the CWU’s deputy general secretary, said: “We are dealing with a company that is preparing for privatisation with relish.
“While the union continues to fight privatisation we are also dealing with the potential realities for workers if there is a change of ownership.
“We are looking to reach a groundbreaking agreement on terms and conditions that sets unprecedented legally binding protection for workers in the event of a sale, and regardless of who owns the company.
“We want Royal Mail and the Government to put protections in place that are both meaningful and lasting.
“Royal Mail continues to prepare for privatisation with relentless rounds of budget cuts in offices across the UK.
“There is no understanding that the pace of change can really only be led by how hard people can work, and CWU members are being driven to absorb absences, carry increasing amounts of mail and work harder than is possible in many cases.
“We have reached breaking point, particularly in delivery offices, and the culture has to change.”
The union said it had rejected a below-inflation pay offer linked to accepting major changes to working conditions and pensions. A number of local disputes have broken out, with the union warning that budget cuts are stretching workers “to the limit”
CWU members voted in a recent ballot by 96 per cent against privatisation, with a similar number saying they would be prepared to boycott delivering competitors’ mail.
Royal Mail managers in the Unite union have also voted strongly against the planned sell-off.
CWU members working in Post Offices will not be involved in the ballot although they have been taking strike action in a separate row over closures, jobs and pay.
A Department for Business spokesman said: “Industrial action is not necessary. It is disappointing that the CWU leadership has decided to ballot for strike action.
“Royal Mail management are continuing to talk to CWU and we encourage both sides to resolve this dispute.
“Action taken by the CWU will not alter the Government’s decision to sell shares in Royal Mail in this financial year.
“Parliament decided over two years ago that selling shares in Royal Mail was the right thing to do to secure Royal Mail’s future and protect the six-day-a-week universal postal service.
“A successful, financially sustainable Royal Mail with access to private capital is in the best interests of the workforce and all users of the universal service.”
A Royal Mail spokesman said: “Royal Mail is very disappointed that the CWU has issued a timeline for a national ballot for industrial action, if an agreement is not reached in on-going talks.
“Discussions over a new three-year agreement between Royal Mail and the CWU are continuing. We are committed to reaching an agreement with the CWU as soon as possible to give our customers and employees continued stability. We believe that focusing on the possibility of industrial action is inappropriate.
“A ballot for strike action does not mean there will be a strike; currently it is business as usual for Royal Mail. Any industrial action, or the possibility of disruption, is damaging to our customers, and our business, especially in the run up to our busiest time, Christmas.
“Royal Mail operates in a very competitive market, especially in the parcels market. We recognize that customers have a choice and can move their business quickly.
“Royal Mail will do all that we can to protect our business and our customers’ mail. We will work hard to minimise the impact of any industrial action on our customers.”
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