Royal Mail locked in last-ditch talks

ROYAL MAIL was last night in eleventh hour talks with its unions in a desperate bid to avoid nationwide walk-outs which are set to cripple the Christmas post.<br /><br />It is the latest move from both sides to end a dispute over modernisation at the service. <br />Tensions are running so high that there are even fears of violence at the picket lines.<br /><br />The Communication Workers&rsquo; Union (CWU) is worried about job losses and pay as Royal Mail tries to cut costs in an attempt to remain viable in the digital age.<br /><br />It has accused the postal company of breaking the law in its bid to hire 30,000 temporary workers that would clear the backlog caused by strikes. <br /><br />The union was last night blaming Royal Mail for not allowing Acas, the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service which acts as an intermediary for fraught industrial talks, to mediate in the strikes.<br /><br />Billy Hayes, the CWU&rsquo;s general secretary, said the service was insisting on &ldquo;preconditions&rdquo; before allowing Acas to mediate.<br /><br />Royal Mail said it was willing to involve Acas, but only if the CWU called off the strike. <br /><br />And it insisted that hiring extra staff over Christmas does not break employment laws.<br /><br />Despite the talks, there was little sign of a breakthrough last night.<br /><br />&ldquo;We have had around 80 meetings with the CWU in recent months and we are continuing to talk to the union to try to avert their totally unjustified strikes,&rdquo; Royal Mail said.<br /><br />According to the London Chamber of Commerce, the postal strikes of 2007 cost London-based firms &pound;300m in lost revenue.This week&rsquo;s are expected to cost more.