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Royal Mail questions CWU ballot validity in High Court Injunction application

By Chris Dawson November 8, 2019 - 10:55 am

Royal Mail have tried everything to avoid postal strikes this Christmas. They’ve done the mediation bit and they’ve written a letter to the CWU pleading them to delay strikes during further negotiations. They’ve offered to delay the strike mandate until after Christmas (which the CWU were never going to accept) and now in a last ditch attempt they’ve called into question the CWU ballot validity claiming irregularities in the voting.

The main thrust of Royal Mail’s argument is that ballot papers weren’t legally delivered but the mail was intercepted and opened at mail centres. Posties filled out ballot papers together in a show of solidarity, sometimes filming themselves doing so. Royal Mail seem to suggest this could coerce some Posties into voting ‘Yes’ to strike action whereas if they opened the ballot in the privacy of their own home they may have voted differently.

Last time Royal Mail went to the High Court for an injunction, it was on the basis that the CWU hadn’t been through the mediation and this pushed the date for a possible strike into the New Year of 2018 and agreement was reached. This time the CWU had all their ducks lined up and mediation took place and there’s very little left preventing the announcement of strike dates.

As far as I can recall, this is the first time the validity of a postal workers strike ballot has been questioned. It’s pretty tough to get a strike mandate these days since the passing of the since the passing of the Trade union Act 2016 requiring a majority with a turnout of at least 50% (The CWU got a yes vote of 97.1% with a turnout of 75.9% taking part in this ballot).

The CWU will be spitting feathers, as will those Posties strongly in favour of strike action, however rules are rules and Royal Mail are calling CWU ballot validity into question:

“The Company is making this High Court application because the integrity and legal soundness of any electoral process is vital. This is particularly the case in relation to potential industrial action around the General Election on 12 December 2019. Royal Mail is also making this application because of the damage industrial action would do to the Company and its customers in the run-up to Christmas.”
– Royal Mail

Picking apart Royal Mail’s justification for questioning of the CWU ballot validity

This justification has three core components:

  1. The Company is making this High Court application because the integrity and legal soundness of any electoral process is vital

    That’s a fair point and there is no reason Royal Mail shouldn’t seek to ensure the ballot is sound, although the CWU might well disagree with this tactic and one wonders why they’ve waited until now… although Royal Mail say they’ve has previously written to CWU on two occasions, providing CWU with the information on which this application is based. Undertakings were sought from CWU that, given the clear evidence of breaches of the Trade Unions and Labour Regulations (Consolidation) Act 1992 (‘TULRCA’), it would refrain from industrial action. No such undertakings were given.

  2. This is particularly the case in relation to potential industrial action around the General Election on 12 December 2019

    The timing is unfortunate, but the strike ballot was held well before the General Election date was announced. This appears to be an attempt to bring political pressure to bear on the CWU.

  3. Royal Mail is also making this application because of the damage industrial action would do to the Company and its customers in the run-up to Christmas

    The weakest of all the justifications, the whole point of the CWU calling a strike in the run up to Christmas is precisely because it will hurt Royal Mail the most at this time of year and it will disrupt as much of the public as possible. No one cares if their credit card statement and junk mail is delivered late in January, but threaten to be the Grinch and ruin Christmas and you get their attention.

Royal Mail is seeking a High Court order that the ballot was unlawful and, therefore, null and void. They asking that, until CWU has conducted a lawful ballot, which results in a vote in favour of industrial action, it will not be able to serve notice of any action on Royal Mail. The Company expects its application to be heard in the High Court in the week commencing 11 November 2019.

Trade Unions and Labour Regulations (Consolidation) Act 1992 (TULRCA)

The TULRCA rules are designed to safeguard democratic integrity by ensuring union members can vote in the privacy of their own homes, rather than in any public process. Royal Mail’s application to the High Court is based on two specific provisions under Section 230 of TULRCA. They say that every person entitled to vote in the ballot:

  • is entitled, as far as reasonably practicable, to have a voting paper sent to him by post at his home address or any other address which he has requested the trade union in writing to treat as his postal address; and
  • must be allowed to vote without interference from, or constraint imposed by, the union or any of its members, officials or employees.

Royal Mail has supplied substantial evidence to the High Court from at least 72 of its UK sites – there may be substantially more – that some or all of the acts listed below occurred. The Company believes the evidence demonstrates that CWU officials, including coordination and direction at a senior level, have planned and orchestrated breaches of their legal obligations. The evidence includes members:

  • being asked to intercept and remove their ballot papers from mail coming into their delivery offices, before they were delivered to their homes;
  • being instructed to vote “yes” and being encouraged to do so in groups; and
  • being encouraged to open their ballot papers on site, mark them as “yes”, with their colleagues present and filming or photographing them doing so, before posting their ballots together at their workplace postboxes.

Under the postal regulatory framework, Royal Mail is required to have documented operating procedures in relation to mails integrity; these are in place. Royal Mail’s procedures make it clear that employees cannot open their mail at the delivery office without the prior authorisation of their manager. Alongside our application for an injunction, we will review whether any further action is required. Royal Mail have also informed Ofcom.

  • jim
    1 week ago

    lets not forget its 97% of CWU members not 97% of posties

    • Billy Bronze
      1 week ago

      Thanks for that Jim 🙄

  • Toby
    6 days ago

    I apreciate that posties aren’t happy… but a strike at such a critical time for many of there big users, is like a turkey voting for Christmas. Many companies are already switching to RMs competition, which to be honest is often miles ahead in the parcel market, this will just drive more there. As each year goes past RM become less and less relevent in the markets when the money is and that will lead to less jobs for posties and less money.
    We have already made preps to move as much of our mail as possibble to other companies through out December just in case. So there is money not in RMs pocket already.
    Strike if you have too… but remember you have jobs because your customers use you… if they get fed up and go elsewhere you wont have jobs to strike with. This is life

  • Mac
    5 days ago

    Expect the posties striking to reduce demand for royal mail and us business owners who can, switching over to companies that can deliver the goods on time.

    So less work for royal mail, less staff needed. Businesses are happy, union is happy, staff are happy. Ex staff not happy but they aren’t going to remain in the union anyway.

    My business uses royal mail for its ability to deliver. Take away that ability just when we are hitting peak trading and its royal mail staff that will be blamed, not management.
    Do I tell my staff sorry guys you aren’t working this week because royal mail staff want to spread their disagreement? Or do I sign a contract with another delivery company to deal with our parcels in future?

  • Clint
    4 days ago

    It’s hard to ignore the ignorance displayed by the comments.
    First, the Royal Mail shareholders who have any influence in the board, are pension funds and foreigh investors. They have no interest in developing the business to compete with the couriers and instruct the directors to strip assets, such as crown offices worth millions of pounds, so that dividends can be paid. The delivery operation has no influence on the estates division, which in turn has no remit to maintain facilities.
    Second, Rico Back was paid £6M to take over directing Royal Mail, and earns in excess of £1,000 a day, for which he works from home. Who do you think pays for that? It’s you, the customers, paying for parcels at inflated rates, while there is no strategy in place to grow the business. Only a simplistic and chirlish copy of the courier model.
    Please, if you are going to comment will you take the trouble to be informed.

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