Strike Threat Over Royal Mail Sell-Off
Staff will be balloted about national strikes over the Government's plans to privatise the Royal Mail, union chiefs have announced.
The Communication Workers Union, which believes industrial action is "inevitable" without compromise, will ask 125,000 of its members to vote over pay, jobs, pensions and the impact of any sell-off in the coming weeks.
The result of the ballot will be revealed in early October and the first strike could be held on October 10 if there is a yes vote.
The move is a major challenge to the planned privatisation, which ministers are expected to press ahead with in the coming months in a move that will see staff secure free shares worth an estimated £2,000 each.
Dave Ward, CWU 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."
The union has also called on Royal Mail to negotiate on 'straightforward' salaries, arguing that staff deserved a "decent pay increase."
The union has already rejected what it describes as a below-inflation pay offer for 2013, which was linked to accepting major changes to working conditions and pensions.
A Department for Business spokesman responded: "Industrial action is not necessary. It is disappointing that the CWU leadership has decided to ballot for strike action.
"They are standing between their members and a generous pay offer of 8.6% over three years, which is more than teachers, nurses and our armed forces, who have had pay increases capped at 1%.
"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 added: "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," he said.
The decision to strike was also criticised by the Institute of Directors.
Its chief economist, Graeme Leach, 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 government is absolutely right to pursue the privatisation of Royal Mail, which will allow it to modernise, compete and survive."