Week to clear post backlog after strike

The postal strikes have left 120 million letters and parcels stranded in sorting offices, with the post watchdog warning that the backlog will take until next week to clear.

The news came as it emerged that more than of half of small firms want to stop using the Royal Mail after the strikes which have cost the London economy alone more than GBP 300 million.

Postal workers’ leaders were last night meeting to decide whether to recommend calling off the dispute over pay, jobs and pensions which has crippled mail deliveries for weeks.

However, the conference was adjourned and will resume today.

Sources at the Royal Mail said there were one and a half days worth of post — 120 million letters and parcels — stuck in the system after last week’s five-day strike and unofficial stoppages.

This could take “several days” to clear, the source said.

However Postwatch, the industry watchdog, estimated the backlog at 200 million letters and parcels. This would take a week to clear, it said. Andy Frewin, a spokesman, said: “We would expect things to be back to normal next Monday if they work as normal this week.”

A survey by the British Chambers of Commerce found that 55 per cent of small firms are now more likely to use private delivery companies. Natalie Evans, the head of policy, said: “This result really hammers home the damage that this dispute has done to Royal Mail.

“Small businesses rely on a decent post service and have been let down badly over the past few weeks.”

The survey of more than 250 company directors showed that almost half thought the strikes had cost their firm at least GBP 1,000 each.

Most of the unofficial actions subsided yesterday, with thousands of workers in east London and Scotland returning to work. However, in Liverpool a hard core of 800 postal workers voted not to return.

Mark Walsh, a Communication Workers Union official, said the workers were waiting to see the response to the peace deal from the union’s executive.

More than 50 delivery offices and mail centres were hit by the unofficial action at one stage last week when fresh rows blew up over changes to shift times. The 15-strong executive of the CWU was considering a “terms of agreement” document drawn up between union boss Billy Hayes and the Royal Mail chief executive, Adam Crozier, on Friday.

The union’s 130,000 members will vote on the deal if it is accepted by the executive.

The deal thrashed out last week includes a 6.7 per cent pay rise over two years, as well as agreements on flexible working and pensions.

More strikes, affecting thousands of van drivers and mechanised centres, are scheduled for tomorrow and Thursday.

However the CWU is likely to postpone these if its executive approves the new deal.

News of the peace deal will be a vindication of the hard line taken by Gordon Brown and the Business Secretary John Hutton.

However, there could be a backlash with the CWU understood to be examining whether to withdraw support for the Labour Party in protest at the “hands off” approach.

Last week some local union officials were being asked by representatives whether they wanted to continue contributing to the union’s political fund.

The CWU contributes around GBP 500,000 to the party every year. A union spokesman said she had not heard that they might withdraw support for the party.

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