Royal Mail and CWU await court verdict

Jo Francis
Wednesday, November 13, 2019

The Royal Mail and the Communication Workers Union are back in court today as the postal operator attempts to halt impending industrial action.

Earlier this month Royal Mail announced that it was making an application to the High Court for an injunction that would stymie the union’s plans after an overwhelming majority of members backed strike action in a ballot held between 24 September and 15 October.

There was a 76% turnout, or 110,000 voters, of which 97.1% were in favour of strike action.

CWU general secretary Dave Ward said that for Royal Mail to challenge such an overwhelming result was “an outrage”.

The two parties were at the High Court yesterday (12 November) but when the day’s proceedings concluded there was no resolution to the matter. They were back in court this morning with a decision expected this afternoon.

In a statement, Royal Mail said: “The Company is making this High Court application because the integrity and legal soundness of any electoral process is vital. This is particularly the case in relation to potential industrial action around the General Election on 12 December 2019. Royal Mail is also making this application because of the damage industrial action would do to the Company and its customers in the run-up to Christmas.”

It cited “clear evidence of breaches” of the Trade Unions and Labour Regulations Act.

“Royal Mail has supplied substantial evidence to the High Court from at least 72 of its UK sites –  there may be substantially more –  that some or all of the acts listed below occurred.

“The Company believes the evidence demonstrates that CWU officials, including coordination and direction at a senior level, have planned and orchestrated breaches of their legal obligations. The evidence includes members being asked to intercept and remove their ballot papers from mail coming into their delivery offices, before they were delivered to their homes; being instructed to vote ‘yes’ and being encouraged to do so in groups; and being encouraged to open their ballot papers on site, mark them as ‘yes’, with their colleagues present and filming or photographing them doing so, before posting their ballots together at their workplace postboxes.”

It said that Royal Mail procedures make it clear that employees cannot open their own mail at the delivery office without the prior authorisation of their manager.

“Alongside our application for an injunction, we will review whether any further action is required. We have also informed Ofcom.”

Even if the injunction is successful Royal Mail could still face issues if workers opt to work to rule instead in the busy run-up to the General Election and Christmas.

One employee commented on social media: “Come in on time, take your meal relief and finish on time. Every day. It’s that simple. Delivery offices will grind to a halt in a week.”

The dispute has been described as “career-defining” battle for Royal Mail CEO Rico Back, who commutes from Switzerland and received a tax-free £5.8m ‘golden hello’ when he took up the role last year.

Writing in the Mirror, Ward said that Back “did not deserve the minimum wage”.

“Let me be absolutely clear to the Royal Mail board: Your actions will not resolve the dispute – you have simply made the workforce angrier and the CWU and our members will not be moved,” he stated.

Separately, Royal Mail said it was “disappointed” that the Competition Appeal Tribunal has upheld the £50m fine levied last year for breaching competition law.

“We are considering all legal options, including whether to seek permission to appeal and to request that payment of the penalty, which would otherwise become payable, be stayed pending any appeal.” 

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