TUC mediates more talks on postal strikes

CRUNCH talks to avoid further postal strikes enter their second day this morning, as Royal Mail bosses and Communication Workers Union (CWU) leaders thrash it out at the TUC headquarters in London.<br /><br />The talks come after two days of industrial action from postal workers last week, which threw businesses into turmoil, drew criticism from politicians and the City, and led to a political row between the Tories and Labour.<br /><br />Brendan Barber, general secretary of the TUC, is mediating talks, which have fallen apart several times over the past month.<br /><br />Unions are angry at modernisation plans at Royal Mail, which come as the postal service struggles to compete with the growing use of email. <br /><br />Plans to part-privatise the service were shelved by business secretary Lord Mandelson earlier this year, afterLabour&rsquo;s backbenchers made it clear they wouldn&rsquo;t support him. <br /><br />&ldquo;The change that postal workers are facing is on a scale that&rsquo;s greater than any other UK industry at the present time,&rdquo; said Dave Ward, the CWU&rsquo;s deputy general secretary said yesterday. He added that Royal Mail&rsquo;s pension deficit &ndash; which stands at around &pound;10bn &ndash; needs to be resolved. <br /><br />Mark Higson, the managing director at Royal Mail who is engaged in the talks, has said that 30m items had been held up by last week&rsquo;s strikes. <br /><br />Business faces a further three 24-hour strikes from Thursday if the TUC talks do not resolve the deadlock between the parties. <br /><br />Yesterday, London&rsquo;s Chamber of Commerce said the industrial action had cost London businesses &pound;500m, hampering the UK as it limps towards economic recovery.<br /><br /><strong>BRENDAN BARBER<br /><br />TUC GENERAL SECRETARY<br /><br /></strong>Once a member of conciliatory group Acas, Barber is accustomed to mediating in tough union talks.<br /><br />He honed his skills as a negotiator early on in his university days, where he was involved in brokering talks on cheaper student housing with the Greater London Council as president of the student union. <br /><br />An avid Everton supporter, Barber has been at the Trade Unions Congress for over thirty years and has served as general secretary for the last six years.<br /><br />Two years ago, Barber successfully intervened in postal strike talks between Royal Mail and the CWU, and yesterday&rsquo;s intervention was greeted with anticipation across the board. <br /><br />Originally from Lancashire, he now resides in North London with his wife and two daughters. <br /><br />The 58-year-old is a non-executive director of the court of the Bank of England, and was a member of Sport England until 2003. He lives in Muswell Hill.<br /><strong><br /></strong>