British post strikes set for second week

LONDON: British postal workers called for further industrial action next week as they entered the second day Friday of a 48-hour strike over modernisation, pay and conditions.

Some 78,000 frontline delivery and collection postmen were set to strike on Friday, after an estimated 42,000 mail centre staff and drivers withdrew their labour on Thursday.

The industrial action, called by the Communication Workers Union (CWU), is causing widespread disruption to services at a time when state-owned Royal Mail is already losing business, with fewer people sending letters and growing competition from the private sector.

The union served notice of further strikes starting next Thursday, with details of how long they will last and which workers would be involved to be announced in the coming days.

The BBC reported that three days of strikes were to take place next week, starting Thursday.

Britain's newspapers said the situation was being badly handled all round.

The Independent said: "The descriptions of this strike action as 'tragic' and 'suicidal' are entirely correct.

"It is time for the government to step in and save both sides in this dispute from their own folly."

Meanwhile The Times called the episode "a study in poor leadership".

"By choosing to take a political stand against privatisation, the CWU has closed off the route to viability for a company whose principal business is heading slowly for obsolescence," it said.

The Sun said: "Posties must realise that whatever happens now, major changes at the Royal Mail are inevitable."

The Daily Telegraph added: "If there is extended strike action there may not be a viable organisation left to modernise."

Mark Higson, Royal Mail's managing director, said it was "appalling but sadly not surprising" that more strikes had been called.

Royal Mail managers insisted they were still open to talks, while Prime Minister Gordon Brown urged management and postal workers to get "round the table" to solve the dispute, warning it would cause long-term damage.

"If more and more customers leave the Royal Mail and more and more customers stop using the Royal Mail, then more jobs will be lost, so this is self-defeating," Brown said.

Union leaders blame the government and Royal Mail for trying to scupper an agreement and have offered "unconditional" talks at conciliation service Acas to break the deadlock.

CWU deputy general secretary Dave Ward said next week's strikes could be avoided.

"We have a week in which to reach an agreement. We are determined to get an agreement. We want Royal Mail to join us at Acas and work with us to achieve one," he said.

This week's strikes are the first industrial action by postal workers since 2007.