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Royal Mail to abandon historic workers deal, as BT, railways and ports face more strikes too


© Reuters. Royal Mail to abandon historic workers deal, as BT, railways and ports face more strikes too

Talks with unions have broken down for both Royal Mail PLC (LON:RMG) and BT Group PLC (LON:BT), triggering more expected strike action as the UK summer of strikes looks set to continue well into the second half of the year.

After five months of talks, Royal Mail said it has failed to reach an agreement with its main trade union over pay and conditions, writes Joshua Lamb.

The FTSE 250-listed group outlined its desire to scrap workplace agreements with staff that have been in place since the company was privatised nine years ago, arguing it needs to act to stem daily losses of £1mln seen in the past quarter.

It said the union was using the historic agreements “to frustrate transformation”.

The Communication Workers Union (CWU) said that the postal company had issued the announcement while its negotiating team was “in the room”, holding discussions about resolving the current disagreement.

Such a move, the union told its followers on social media, was “an all out attack on your union” and “the start of a move to ensure they can attack you at local level without any challenge”, and “the beginning of their plan to make Royal Mail Group a gig economy standard employer”.

Under the current agreements, Royal Mail said it is unable to employ staff on zero hours or temporary contracts, cannot offer contracts inferior to those of current workers, with compulsory redundancies and outsourcing of parts of the business also forbidden.

It said the business “needs to adapt much faster to adapt to changing customer demands in a highly competitive market” and that the CWU “blocked any meaningful discussion on the change agenda the company has set out, and has not put forward any viable alternatives that will fund further pay increases”.

With the news that industrial action looks set to continue, Royal Mail shares have dropped 3%, hitting a two-year low.

Royal Mail has proposed talks should be taken to Acas – the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service – to try and find a resolution. The company will also review or serve notice on a number of historic agreements and policies which, it said, “are currently being used by the CWU to frustrate transformation”.

Also today, the CWU announced that four hundred 999 emergency call handlers at BT could strike on four days next month .

These call handlers will be part of 40,000 BT Group workers likely to take part in the strike over pay on 6, 10, 20 and 24 October

Staff were granted a £1,500 pay rise in April, an average increase of 5%, but CWU argues this is a “real terms pay cut” due to the current high rate of inflation of over 10%.

The union has noted that BT made a £1.3bn profit tax in the past year and that boss Philip Jansen received a 32% pay rise while “many workers who made that profit rely on food banks and don’t know how they will pay their bills”.

Transport and shipping strikes

Strikes will also affect the transport and shipping industries in the coming weeks, as the increasing cost of living causes increasing numbers of workers to call for higher wages.

Workers from fifteen operating companies, including Network Rail, will strike on October 1 and October 5, due to the continuing dispute over job security, pay and working conditions.

These strikes will bring the railway network to an effective standstill, according to the RMT Press Office, which said it “received no further offers from the rail industry to help come to a negotiated settlement.”

Mick Whelan, of the Aslef union, said “withdrawing our labour is always a last resort for this trade union.”

Significant disruption is expected, particularly for the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham due to be held between 2 and 5 of October, and the London marathon on October 2

Railway cleaners contracted for Avanti West Coast services are also set to walk out this Friday for 24 hours, as RMT argues members are “languishing on poverty wages.”

Over 2,000 London bus drivers of Arriva will strike from October 4, with 600 Kent-based drivers expected to strike earlier on September 30.

In June, Arriva said it had offered an 11.2% pay increase but this was not accepted.

Unite, the union, said this was because workers were asking for a pay rise in line with the current retail inflation rate of 12.3%, following “years of seeing their pay eroded in real terms”.

It has said the strikes will run continuously until the row over pay is resolved.

Port of Liverpool workers are currently undertaking two weeks of strike action, set to end on October 3.

Felixstowe port workers will also walk out between 27 September to 5 October, following eight days of strike action in August. These actions will coincide with the strikes in Liverpool.

Workers in Liverpool were offered an 8.3% pay rise and a one-off payment of £750, while at Felixstowe a pay increase of 7%, including a £500 bonus, were both declined by Unite due to not matching inflation rates.

Combined, these actions have the potential to shut down 60% of UK container traffic.

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