Mail paralysed by postal strike

CHRIS BISHOP Few homes and businesses received their mail today, as thousands of postal workers went on strike in a bitter row over pay and job cuts.Picket lines were mounted outside sorting offices and mail centres from 3am, crippling deliveries.

CHRIS BISHOP

Few homes and businesses received their mail today, as thousands of postal workers went on strike in a bitter row over pay and job cuts.

Picket lines were mounted outside sorting offices and mail centres from 3am, crippling deliveries. Union leaders said only a handful of workers reported for duty, though management later insisted the figure was nearer 20 per cent.

Around 30 strikers stood outside the main sorting office in Austin Fields, King's Lynn, with a portable barbecue supplying a stream of bacon rolls.

Communication Workers Union (CWU) rep Adam Oakes said: “We've got around 125 members in King's Lynn and just five have gone into work, so we're pleased with that. There will be no post in King's Lynn.”

Mr Oakes said the situation was similar at sorting offices across the region, as the CWU warned of more action if the deadlocked row over a 2.5 per cent pay offer and modernisation plans is not resolved.

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“They've made the 2.5 per cent offer, which is about £8 a week, but the problem is they're trying to take away £12 to £20 people get paid for early shift allowance and money for delivering leaflets with is £20 - £30 a week, so we stand to lose £30 or £40 a week,” added Mr Oakes.

“They're talking about £350m in cuts, which will mean letter box collections will be once a day anddelivery start times will be pushed back.

“They're talking about closing 2,500 small post offices - the cut backs they are trying to make will erode the service.”

Royal Mail spokesman James Taylor said: "In East Anglia there are 600 people working, which is 20pc of the usual workforce. 17pc are working in the delivery and 3pc in the processing centres.

"We're being supported by the managers who have come in to help and take over roles. We're expecting to do collections at all post offices and expecting to get out all the special delivery items.

"It's virtually impossible to tell what offices are striking as managers are away, busy dealing with the mail. We are hoping to get further figures out later.

"Obviously we apologise for the inconvenience and are doing our level best to carry on."

There were pickets at Dereham Post Office and no deliveries in the town. There were no deliveries in Diss, Cromer, Thetford or Harleston, but some mail arrived in Swaffham and it appeared to business as usual for most homes and businesses in Fakenham.

Post Office workers at Diss and Harleston joined the strike action yesterday and homes and businesses in the area did not receive any post.

Simon Olander, Communications Workers Union (CWU) local representative at Diss, where around a dozen workers were picketing yesterday morning, said: “We began picketing at about 4am and we have had up to about 20 people on the gate.

“No one from the Post Office at Diss or Harleston wanted to go on strike but we felt that it was important because what they are trying to do is lessen the service for members of the public which is not what we are all about. Our hands have been forced.”

Up to 130,000 union members were expected to take part in the strike after overwhelmingly rejecting the pay offer and the modernisation plans which the union warned would lead to 40,000 job losses.

Workers at Crown post offices were also on strike until midday in a separate row over controversial plans to transfer postal services into WH Smith stores.

King's Lynn's historic Baxter's Plain post office is among those affected and thousands have signed a petition to keep it.

The Royal Mail said today that it was willing to meet the union at any time to spell out the situation it faced, including mounting competition from private firms.

The organisation has stressed it has no more money to improve the pay offer and said it has "no option' other than to modernise.

Managers were drafted in to make some special deliveries and officials said they would try to collect some mail from post offices.

But people were urged to avoid posting any mail today, especially at post boxes.

Royal Mail said customers should use main post offices if they have to post any letters today.

Chief executive Adam Crozier said: "Royal Mail will do all it can to mitigate the impact of strike action but we are very disappointed for our customers at the disruption they are now facing.'

Mr Crozier said Royal Mail was losing business, such as a recent £8 million contract with online retailer Amazon, because it had failed to modernise.

Business groups today repeated their warning that a lengthy postal strike would be "devastating' for industry, especially small firms.

Royal Mail chairman Allan Leighton said the dispute was about the entire future of the postal organisation.

He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "We are no longer a monopoly - people have other options. Our competitors are much more efficient and can undercut us on price.

"We can afford to pay only what we can afford to pay.'

Mr Leighton said that as well as the 2.5% pay offer, workers were also being offered an opportunity to share in productivity gains and receive dividends.

He admitted that there would be job losses as productivity was improved but pointed out that 45,000 workers had left the Royal Mail in the last five years, all voluntarily or through natural wastage.

He maintained that the Royal Mail did not have a specific figure in mind but agreed it would be a "big number' of jobs lost.

Federation of Small Businesses spokesman Matthew Knowles said: "We are very disappointed that this strike went ahead. The two sides need to see the bigger picture and resolve their differences.

"The livelihoods and jobs of many people in small businesses will be put at risk if this dispute continues for much longer.'

Mr Knowles said the backlog of post caused by today's strike would take some time to clear, which he warned could hold up vital documents and payments to small firms.

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