Suffolk: Post office strike action hits Suffolk and Essex

Help for struggling post offices

Help for struggling post offices - Credit: Archant

CUSTOMERS were turned away or faced long delays as Post Office workers walked out of branches across Suffolk and Essex this afternoon on a half-day strike.

The Communications Workers’ Union (CWU) called strike action in 370 of the UK’s Crown branches including Ipswich, Colchester, Haverhill, Newmarket and Lowestoft. Some branches such as Felixstowe remained open but with a reduced staff.

Offices including Bury St Edmunds main Cornhill branch closed at 1pm for the afternoon in support of industrial action by the CWU. The union is protesting against plans to close six post offices and franchise 70 main branches into other retail outlets, which it claims will affect up to 800 jobs.

According to CWU East of England representative Tim Pavlin, workers only discovered the franchise plans after they asked for a consolidated pay increase of 3.5% for 2013/13 and a further 3.25% increase for 2013/14. The Post Office is offering a series of three cash payments totalling £3,400 by April 2015.

In Sudbury’s East Street office - which was forced to close on April 19 when its 10 staff members joined a previous strike - remained open today with a skeleton staff drafted in from other branches. Posters were put up warning customers about possible delays.

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Stella Pearce, who regularly gets the bus into town for her pension said: “It’s bad enough that they did away with our local post office in Acton but to get to Sudbury and find this one closed last Friday was really frustrating because I had a completely wasted journey. At least they were open today, but there were only a couple of people serving so I had to wait quite a long time.”

Although Crown branches in Suffolk and Essex are not believed to be on the franchise list or at risk of closure, they have all been involved in the strike action. Mr Pavlin said: “We are taking a two-pronged approach with the strike action in support of a pay offer and against the mergers and closures. We are trying to minimise the disruption to customers by taking part-day action. Although it is inconvenient for some people, if 20% of the post office network is franchised, this will have a greater impact on the service in the long term.”

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According to Post Office network and sales director Kevin Gilliland, the Crown network is losing £40m a year of public money, which “cannot be sustained”.

He said: “We will invest £70 million in 300 Crown branches and are proposing to partner 70 branches with suitable retailers. Any move to a retailer’s premises would offer access to the same range of products and high levels of customer service in a new modern branch.”

He added: “We believe our pay offer of three cash payments is extremely fair. The CWU’s unrealistic demands are delaying our people from receiving the first payment of £1400, which is ready to be paid into their pay packets.”

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