(Corrects number of postal workers in sixth paragraph to
121,000 from 21,000)
* Strikes halted until after Christmas
* Definitive agreement still to be reached
(Adds quotes, detail)
By Stefano Ambrogi
LONDON, Nov 5 British postal workers said on
Thursday they would suspend strike action until at least after
Christmas under an interim agreement reached between unions and
state-owned Royal Mail.
Brendan Barber, head of union umbrella group the TUC, told
reporters that no definitive agreement had been reached to
resolve a long-running row over jobs, pay and modernisation.
However, he said strike action had been suspended pending
further efforts to settle the dispute and to prevent disruption
of deliveries at the busiest time of the year.
"The agreement provides for a period of calm, free of
industrial action, to enable negotiations to be held over the
next couple of months through to the end of the year to secure
the longer-term agreements necessary on all aspects of
modernisation of Royal Mail," Barber said.
"The delivery of the terms of this agreement means that
Royal Mail services will be free of any disruption up to and
through the Christmas period," he said.
A third wave of national strikes, which the Communication
Workers Union said would have involved all 121,000 staff, was
due to have taken place on Friday and Monday.
The dispute has already caused widespread disruption to
postal services and cost the British economy and retailers over
a billion pounds.
The stoppages have also been a major embarrassment for Prime
Minister Gordon Brown, whose governing Labour Party is trailing
in opinion polls ahead of an election due by next June.
Brown wants to head off any possible winter of discontent
brewing on the horizon as government and businesses tighten
their belts during the sharp economic downturn.
Unions representing British Airways BAY.L cabin crew on
Thursday said they would go ahead with a strike ballot and
workers at IT service firm Fujitsu's UK arm said they would hold
a three-day national strike starting on Nov. 12.
Business Secretary Peter Mandelson and Royal Mail's managing
director Mark Higson, who have both denounced the industrial
action as "suicidal", welcomed the news.
"I hope very much indeed that we will not see further
strikes," Mandelson told reporters.
"I hope very much indeed that if there are issues that have
got to be resolved, if there are wrinkles in the modernisation
process -- which is absolutely vital for Royal Mail -- that
these wrinkles will be smoothed out by discussion and
negotiation without resorting to further strikes in the future."
Royal Mail's Higson said he looked forward "to positive and
constructive discussions" on the next stage of the modernisation
(Additional reporting by Adrian Croft; Editing by Keith Weir)