More than 100,000 postal workers in the UK have started the first day of planned nationwide strikes that are expected to disrupt deliveries across the country in the run-up to Christmas as grievances rise over pay and working conditions.
The industrial action kicked off on Friday after the Communications Workers Union (CWU), which has planned six days of strikes on December 9, 11, 14, 15, 23 and 24, organized a protest by workers at the Houses of Parliament following the failure of talks to resolve disputes.
According to the CWU, at least 15,000 postal workers headed to Westminster on Friday, marking the biggest-ever demonstration held by mail workers.
“Royal Mail bosses are risking a Christmas meltdown because of their stubborn refusal to treat their employees with respect. 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,” said Dave Ward, the CWU general secretary.
“It is about saving jobs. It’s about saving the service that we provide on a daily basis to customers right across the UK, every single household, every single community, every single business,” he added.
After warning customers to post Christmas cards and presents early to make sure they arrive on time, Royal Mail accused the union of “holding Christmas to ransom.”
The company, which had its offer of up to 9 percent for workers rejected, said Royal Mail needed to restructure as it was losing £1m a day, stressing that it might need to cut up to 10,000 jobs by August.
The challenges for the company are not ceasing as it is facing 18 further days of strikes by the end of the year if all the planned action takes place. The company was at pains to say that 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 the British inflation, which currently stands at 11.1 percent — the highest level in more than four decades.
“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,” a spokesperson for the company said.
Moreover, Royal Mail called on 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.
Meanwhile, it is worth mentioning that the embattled company made a £235m profit in the same period last year.
Military staff set to cover for striking Border Force workers
In another development on Friday, the British Defense Ministry announced that the military personnel were training to carry out passport checks at Heathrow, Gatwick and other airports in case they needed to be deployed in response to planned strike action by Border Force workers.
The announcement came after the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) Union, which represents thousands of Britain’s Border Force workers at several major airports, had earlier said staff would strike for eight days this month in a dispute over pay.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told reporters on Friday that many armed forces personnel were likely to miss Christmas “to help us deal with the disruption from strikes, whether that’s manning border posts or driving ambulances.”
Asked if the military would definitely be deployed, a defense ministry source said they would be “held at readiness.”
The UK faces an unprecedented bout of strikes ahead of and during the Christmas holiday period, involving nurses, ambulance staff and rail workers, as labor unions demand higher pay for their members to keep up with soaring inflation across the country.
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