7:08am 8th November 2019.
(Updated at 12:27pm 8th November 2019)
Royal Mail is to go to court in a bid to block potential strikes by postal workers during the general election and looming festive season – its busiest time of the year.
The company, which is locked in a bitter pay and working conditions dispute with the Communication Workers Union (CWU), said it would lodge an injunction at the High Court on Friday.
Royal Mail said it was seeking an interim order to block the strike ballot, which was overwhelmingly supported by union members last month, because the “integrity and legal soundness” of the vote was “vital”, especially in the run up to the election on 12 December.
It was to allege, at a hearing expected next week, several irregularities in the CWU’s postal ballot, that ran from 24 September to 15 October.
Royal Mail cited a rule under trade union laws aimed at ensuring staff were free to vote “without interference from, or constraint imposed by, the union or any of its members, officials or employees”.
It said its application to the court would include “substantial evidence” of violations at at least 72 of its UK sites.
The company said it included allegations surrounding the interception of ballot papers before delivery to home addresses and staff being encouraged to open ballot papers on site and being “instructed” to vote in favour of action.
The CWU responded in an initial statement via Twitter: “Royal Mail have made an application to take us to the High Court.
“They claim there are irregularities with our ballot. We clearly refute this and will be represented.”
It later added: “Once again Royal Mail run to the courts rather than negotiate with our union. 97.1% of our members voted in a record 76% turnout. One of the biggest national votes in trade union history.
“This dispute will only be settled in serious negotiations not in court rooms.”
Royal Mail announced its legal action just over a week after it offered to hold talks with no preconditions if the union would agree to rule out strikes before Christmas.
It said on Friday: “The company has previously written to CWU on two occasions.
“It provided CWU with the information on which this application is based.
“Undertakings were sought from CWU that, given the clear evidence of breaches of the Trade Unions and Labour Regulations (Consolidation) Act 1992 (‘TULRCA’), it would refrain from industrial action.
“No such undertakings were given.”
CWU members voted overwhelmingly for walkouts in the ballot, but the union did not call strike dates as Royal Mail’s dispute resolution procedures were not completed but are due to expire next week.
The company has witnessed growing wildcat action among staff this year.
The CWU says it has broken commitments made last year in several areas, including over shorter working hours and pensions and claims 50,000 jobs are at risk under the company’s transformation plans, which include separating its Parcelforce division.
Royal Mail has dismissed the jobs figure as “unfounded” and argues it must transform the business if it is to meet the challenges posed by declining letter volumes and parcel growth.
It also denies reneging on union agreements.
Shane O’Riordain, Royal Mail managing director of regulation and corporate affairs, said: “Royal Mail believes there are no grounds for industrial action. We are honouring the 2018 Agreement.”
He listed three instances of action since the deal was done last year, including pay increases of 5% and 2% and the first hours reduction under the shorter working week commitment.