A key hurdle preventing a Christmas shutdown of Britain's postal service was today removed as Royal Mail's main union backed industrial action.
The Communication Workers Union (CWU), which represents 110,000 postal staff, today voted in favour of strike action with 89.1 per cent approval for the motion.
Some 73.7 per cent of the membership voted in the ballot, greater than the 50 per cent requirement to make action legal under the government's Trade Union Act.
One MP, himself a former postman, criticised the timing of the announcement during the Conservative party conference.
The CWU announced it would ballot members for the industrial action at the start of September after talks broke down.
Royal Mail and union leaders had been locked in talks over a raft of changes that include the culling of its final salary pension scheme and changes to working practices. But the CWU said there were "fundamental divisions" between the two sides.
The union has been quick to mobilise support for strikes through grassroots social media campaigns.
Royal Mail wants to shut its final salary pension scheme, which it says will cost £1.3bn to keep open. It has proposed an alternative that guarantees a minimum payout. The group, which was recently relegated from the FTSE 100, also wants to make further changes including adjusting working hours to compete with next-day delivery firms such as Amazon and Hermes.
But Royal Mail responded to the vote today by saying the result "does not necessarily mean there will be industrial action".
The group added that the vote triggers a legal obligation for both sides to go through mediation before a strike an take place.
"Royal Mail has brought to the CWU’s attention the contractual dispute resolution procedures included in the AFG, which both sides are required to follow once instigated. They escalate to independent external mediation, which we expect will take close to Christmas to be completed, and may be longer. We believe these dispute resolution procedures must be followed. The union cannot take industrial action until they have been completed."
Union leaders have called the current disagreement a "watershed dispute"
"[It's] not only going to determine the future of our members’ pensions, their jobs and their pay, but also the whole direction of the company and the range of services that we believe Royal Mail should be offering to its customers," CWU general secretary Dave Ward told ITV on Sunday.
Royal Mail has insisted there are "no grounds for industrial action" adding the threat of it "undermines the trust of our customers".
Tory MP Scott Mann, who served as a postman for 20 years told City A.M.: "The fact that this ballot has been called in the middle of the Conservative conference tells me everything I need to know about the nature of why this action has been called.
"It is in a very fragile environment at the moment.
"The policy seems to be shaped by the union shop stewards rather than the working postman or woman on the street."
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