LONDON (Reuters) - Royal Mail boss Adam Crozier said he hoped commonsense would prevail when management and union representatives meet on Monday for talks aimed at ending a dispute that has paralysed Britain’s postal service.
Two days of nationwide industrial action last week created delivery mayhem, with millions of parcels and letters caught up in a backlog and further strikes planned from Thursday.
The strikes, part of a dispute over pay and jobs and the pace of modernisation at the state-owned company, are a potential embarrassment for Prime Minister Gordon Brown and his Labour Party, which receives a large chunk of its funding from the trade union movement.
When asked on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday if the strike would go ahead, Chief Executive Crozier said: “I very much hope not. I hope that people will see sense.”
The talks between Royal Mail and the Communication Workers Union (CWU) are due be held through the Trades Union Congress, which assisted the 2007 pay and modernisation agreement.
Billy Hayes, CWU general secretary, warned the talks could be difficult.
“If Royal Mail attend the talks and just simply reiterate their previous position, that won’t help,” he told the BBC’s The Politics Show. “But if they come there genuinely seeking agreement, then I’m sure we can go forward.”
He warned Brown that failure to reach agreement could damage Labour’s election chances. His union has given 5 million pounds to the party since 2001.
Liam Byrne, chief secretary to the Treasury, told Sky News an industrial, not a political, solution was needed.
Talking about modernisation at Royal Mail, he added: “Management and unions can’t avoid this issue, they have got to sit down and thrash it out.
About 42,000 mail centre staff and drivers walked out last Thursday, followed by 78,000 delivery and collection staff on Friday. Before the backlog will have been cleared, a fresh wave of strikes is due to begin on October 29.
Royal Mail, whose business has declined by some 10 percent annually in recent years, says modernisation is essential if the state-owned company is to fight off competition from more specialised delivery services and the Internet.
Reporting by Avril Ormsby; Editing by Mike Nesbit and Elizabeth Fullerton