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Royal Mail - National Strikes

29th October 2009

Jonathan Djanogly writes a letter to the press about the Royal Mail strikes...

The Royal Mail national strike is unacceptable and represents a death wish on behalf of the CWU postal union.

Even without the strike, Royal Mail is predicted to lose some 8% of its mail volume this year. This is due to lack of modernisation, the internet and competitors taking away its business. The strike could accelerate this demise with an FSB survey today revealing that 70 per cent of small business customers are saying they will lose money and that half are considering leaving Royal Mail.

Not helped by a history of poor industrial relations, urgently needed modernisation has been constantly delayed over the last 12 years. This strike is only the latest in a history of union militancy that, frankly, resembles what we thought we had left behind in the 1970s. Although it is for the unions and management to resolve the strike, the government cannot avoid blame for its inability, as 100% shareholder, to ensure modernisation during its term of office.

But there are also fundamental structural issues which need to be resolved urgently for Royal Mail to survive. These were addressed in the recent Postal Services Bill which provided for a new regulatory regime, a resolution to the huge pension deficit and a mechanism to attract outside investment in the form of part privatisation.

We offered the government our support for the Bill and aided its passage through the Lords. Despite this, in the face of the opposition of some 150 Labour backbenchers and the threat of the CWU stopping its payments to Labour, the government pulled the Bill for political reasons. Even worse, they have offered no new alternative to save Royal Mail from further decline. This represents a huge government cop-out to the unions and the left and a lack of leadership from the Prime Minister.

The government maintains that the strike’s modernisation issues are to be detached from the Bill’s structural issues; so that they can avoid responsibility for the strike. But having secured their “victory” over the government, why did the unions start their local strikes just hours after Lord Mandelson announced he was pulling the Bill? The fact is that once government showed itself to be weak and ineffectual the unions simply stepped into the policy void with their demands against modernisation.

As we have consistently been maintaining since that time; Conservatives wish to secure a sustainable postal service for the future. We still believe that the best way to do this is to follow Richard Hooper’s proposals, which were the essence of the Postal Services Bill. This will resolve the company’s structural problems and enable a sensible injection of private capital and expertise into the Royal Mail. As part of this reform, we would want to ensure that postal workers can participate in employee share ownership.

Of course, if the government continues to abdicate its responsibility to the Royal Mail, to its staff and its customers, if elected, we will bring forward the Bill ourselves.

Yours ever,

Jonathan Djanogly MP


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