Royal Mail workers begin wave of pre-Christmas strikes

<span>Photograph: Leon Neal/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Leon Neal/Getty Images

More than 100,000 postal workers have begun the first of a series of days of strike action that threaten to disrupt deliveries across the country in the run-up to Christmas, after the failure of 11th-hour talks to resolve a protracted and bitter dispute over pay and conditions.

The Communications Workers Union (CWU), which has planned six days of strikes on 9, 11, 14, 15, 23 and 24 December, has organised a protest by workers at the Houses of Parliament on Friday as the row with management continues to escalate.

The CWU said at least 15,000 of its members would head to Westminster on Friday for what it claimed would be the biggest-ever demonstration held by postal workers.

“Royal Mail bosses are risking a Christmas meltdown because of their stubborn refusal to treat their employees with respect,” said Dave Ward, the CWU general secretary. “Postal workers want to get on with serving the communities they belong to, delivering Christmas gifts and tackling the backlog from recent weeks. But they know their value.”

Royal Mail, which has warned customers to post Christmas cards and presents early to make sure they arrive on time, has accused the union of “holding Christmas to ransom”.

The company, which had its offer of up to 9% for workers rejected, has argued that Royal Mail needs to restructure as it is losing £1m a day and said it may need to cut up to 10,000 jobs by August.

The company is facing 18 days of strikes this year if all the planned action takes place. It has said the eight days of strikes until 16 November cost it £100m.

The dispute began this summer after Royal Mail rejected union demands for a pay rise that matched inflation, which is currently 11.1%.

A spokesperson for the company said: “We spent three more days at Acas this week to discuss what needs to happen for the strikes to be lifted. In the end, all we received was another request for more pay, without the changes needed to fund the pay offer.

“Strike action has already cost our people £1,200 each. The money allocated to the pay deal risks being eaten away by the costs of further strike action. The CWU is striking at our busiest time, deliberately holding Christmas to ransom for our customers, businesses and families across the country.”

Last month, Royal Mail asked the government to allow it to stop delivering letters on Saturdays, arguing it was financially unsustainable after it reported a £219m loss in the six months to September.

The embattled company, which last month warned it may need to cut up to 10,000 jobs by August, made a £235m profit in the same period last year.