Royal Mail Workers Set Strike for Early March

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Britain's postal workers voted yesterday to strike the first week in March if no progress is made in talks over a pay dispute.

The employees, members of the Communication Workers Union, want a 5 percent pay raise. Royal Mail has offered a 2 percent increase, with a further 0.5 percent if customer quality of service targets are met.

Union members approved a strike earlier this month but delayed setting dates in the hope an agreement could be reached on their pay dispute with Royal Mail. The CWU said Royal Mail had provoked action by firing two workers in recent days.

"It hardly seems to be the action of a business looking for a settlement," CWU deputy general secretary John Keggie said.

The union said it would try to minimize disruption to the public if the strikes went ahead and pledged that Easter and Mother's Day mail would be unaffected.

Royal Mail, however, said that talks with the CWU had entered a new phase and that steps are being taken to appoint an independent panel of mediators. The panel would report on the dispute after Royal Mail and the union present their positions. The process is expected to take at least three weeks.

Meanwhile, United Kingdom-based direct marketing customers of Consignia, the owner of Royal Mail, may have their bulk mail delivered by a postal competitor by April as a result of a ruling last month by the Postal Services Commission, or Postcomm.

Postcomm gave Consignia and other organizations affected by the proposals until March 15 to comment. The regulator may revise its proposals in the light of these comments, but Consignia is required to implement the final reform package.

Consignia said that it would face "death by a thousand cuts" under the plan and revealed that it is already losing 1 million pounds a day on letter delivery.

Postcomm said Consignia's performance had deteriorated so severely that it faced little choice but to accelerate the introduction of alternative operators.

"The current postal monopoly is clearly not providing its customers with the service they want and is failing to contain its costs," chairman Graham Corbett said. "We believe the most effective way to change this is for the company to face real competition."

The report also accuses Consignia of allowing costs to rise at a faster rate than its revenue growth. The UK government ended the Post Office's 350-year monopoly on letter delivery last year.

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