Mail services cut as strike action hits

THOUSANDS of homes and businesses in the Colchester area could face more disruption to mail services today – with postal workers set to continue an unofficial strike.

By Roddy Ashworth

THOUSANDS of homes and businesses in the Colchester area could face more disruption to mail services today – with postal workers set to continue an unofficial strike.

Royal Mail workers in Colchester had hoped they could call off their action this morning – but last night there appeared to be little progress in national talks aimed at stopping a series of wildcat strikes in towns across the country.

Adresses in the postcode region of CO1-4 in the Colchester area were left without mail yesterday morning after night workers at the town's main delivery office walked out.

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Pickets outside the offices, in Moorside, said day workers had continued with the industrial action, which they claimed was instigated after work was transferred from a striking mail centre in Boreham.

But local Communication Workers Union (CWU) representative Mark Andrew said: "We're hoping this can be over as soon as possible.

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"Basically, what happened was that work came in from the South East Mail Centre (SEMC) in Chelmsford.

"The night staff made the decision not to handle the work. Subsequently they decided to walk out at 10.30pm. The action is unofficial.

"What would have happened is that it would come a point where somebody was told to do the work and, when they refused, they would have been suspended. That is why the action was taken."

Last night Ewan Dodds, president of Colchester Chamber of Commerce, said his business had not received its mail yesterday.

"This has a major impact. I would far prefer it if they were back at work.

"In difficult business times like these, an inability to get one's post and respond too it makes things even more problematic.

"We can recognise the circumstances surrounding the postal workers and the reasons they are on strike – which I am sure are good and valid – but them being out doesn't help the business community."

The Royal Mail said last night it was preparing to seal postboxes because of the wildcat strikes which have crippled deliveries and led to a mounting backlog of letters.

As well as Essex, the unofficial action - which has brought postal services to a standstill in many parts of London – has spread to Coventry, Warrington, Maidestone, Milton Keynes, Oxford and Portsmouth.

The CWU said an estimated 25,000 workers have now walked out because of an escalating row which started almost two weeks ago when a driver was suspended.

The union's general secretary Billy Hayes and his deputy Dave Ward unexpectedly turned up at the Royal Mail's London headquarters in the afternoon and held talks with chief executive Adam Crozier.

Further talks were being held last night between regional officials of the union and managers, but there was little sign of an early breakthrough to the dispute which is costing the Royal Mail millions of pounds and causing huge problems for thousands of companies.

Most of London's 20,000 postboxes are expected to be sealed by early next week if the dispute continues.

Mail will be emptied from the boxes before they are taped up and taken to sorting offices to join bags of other undelivered post.

Mr Crozier has accused union activists of prolonging the dispute and said they were trying to cajole workers across the country to take industrial action.

He insisted that an increase in the London Weighting allowance, which is at the centre of the dispute, would not be improved despite the worsening industrial relations.

The union has accused managers of bullying and intimidating workers.

Business leaders across the country have urged the two sides to resolve the row as quickly as possible because of the damage the lack of normal postal services is having on companies across the UK.

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