Royal Mail Strike 2022: result of CWU’s postal strike ballot announced - when will workers go on strike?

A Communication Workers Union source said ‘nobody wants to be in this situation,’ but that workers ‘will defend ourselves if provoked’

Postal workers have voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action after rejecting a pay offer worth 2%, the Communication Workers Union (CWU) has announced.

The union balloted Royal Mail members after they received the “aggressive” pay rise offer, with the CWU confirming that 97.6% of respondants voted in favour of the industrial action.

Union bosses have criticised the firm over plans to offer a below-inflation pay increase, despite the group paying out hundreds of millions to shareholders last year.

Speaking at a press conference in York this afternoon, CWU general secretary Dave Ward said Royal Mail workers “are demanding a substantial pay rise, they know they deserve it, they also know the company can afford it”.

A Royal Mail spokesperson said: “We are disappointed that CWU members have voted in favour of industrial action.

“We offered a deal worth up to 5.5% for CWU grade colleagues, the biggest increase we have offered for many years, which the CWU rejected.

“We can only fund this offer by making the changes that will pay for it and ensure Royal Mail can grow and remain competitive in a fast-moving industry.

“Despite nearly three months of talks, the CWU have not engaged in any meaningful discussion on the changes we need to make to adapt. Ensuring we can change, at pace, is the route to protecting well-paid, permanent, jobs long term and retain our place as the industry leader on pay and terms and conditions. That is in the interest of Royal Mail and all its employees.

“In the event of industrial action, we have contingency plans to minimise customer disruption and will work to keep people, businesses and the country connected.”

Royal Mail workers have voted to strike in a dispute over pay. (Credit: Getty Images)

When will Royal Mail workers go on strike?

The results of the ballot were revealed today (19 July), with 97.6% of respondants backing the proposed strike on a 77% turnout.

Mr Ward called the result “stunning”, adding: “Let me be absolutely clear. This is not just a vote massively in support of the union, its a vote of no confidence in the board and a vote of no confidence in the CEO of Royal Mail. They need tomorrow to consider their own futures.”

More than 115,000 workers will walk out in what would be one of the largest strike actions in recent memory.

Trade unions must give at least two weeks notice of strike action once the ballot result has been announced.

This means that strike action could take place as soon as 2 August.

In some disputes there may be a renewed period of negotiations after the announcement of a ballot to strike in order to try and avert strike action.

However, this is considered unlikely in the Royal Mail dispute, in part because the pay offer has already been implemented despite CWU rejecting the offer.

Mr Ward said: “We will give them another opportunity to come back to the negotiating table… but we’re not messing about here now.

“They have a small window and if they don’t respond to that we will notify the business of industrial action.”

Speaking when the ballot was announced last month, a Royal Mail spokesperson told NationalWorld they believe there are “no grounds for industrial action”.

They said: "We offered a deal worth up to 5.5% for CWU grade colleagues, the biggest increase we have offered for many years, which was rejected by the CWU.

“We need to reach an agreement on the changes required to ensure Royal Mail can grow and remain competitive in a fast-moving industry, securing jobs for the future and retaining our place as the industry leader on pay and terms and conditions.”

Why are Royal Mail workers considering strike action?

The dispute, over pay and conditions, was formally launched in April at the CWU’s annual conference.

Delegates at the conference voted to declare a national dispute by early May unless they were given a “straight, no strings pay increase”.

The union has also claimed that Royal Mail has imposed a 2% pay rise by executive action, or without consultation.

In June, after talks between CWU and Royal Mail ended, the company opted to introduce the new pay deal despite a lack of agreement.

CWU’s Deputy General Secretary Terry Pullinger has claimed that senior Royal Mail managers told him this was their intention, despite a previous agreement that executive action would not be taken over pay.

Workers say this offer would amount to a significant real-terms pay cut, and leave many struggling with the cost of living.

Mr Pullinger said: “Throughout this entire dispute, Royal Mail management have conducted themselves insultingly and disrespectfully to key workers.

“Their conduct, and particularly the imposition of such an aggressive pay offer, has eroded trust among loyal employees.

“Nobody wants to be in this situation, but our members are heroes.”

The deal was announced on 15 June, with Royal Mail Group ‘forcing through’ a non-conditional increase of 2%, plus a lump sum payment reportedly worth a 2% increase for five months.

Royal Mail says it also has offered CWU a further 3.5%, subject to agreement on a number of changes to working practices, and a new bonus.

According to their annual report, Royal Mail claims to have submitted a pay offer for workers worth up to 5.5%, including a bonus and backpay.

The actual salary rise for workers would amount to 2%, which is less than in some previous years, although the total conditional offer is the highest the firm has offered since 2007.

As inflation is set to top 11% by the end of the year, with the RPI measure likely to be significantly higher.

While the dispute primarily relates to pay, many Royal Mail workers are also particularly unhappy about a number of proposed changes to their terms and working conditions.

Workers were sent a long letter outlining all the proposed changes that have been offered ‘in exchange’ for the new pay offer.

Rohan Kon, a CWU rep and postal worker in Sheffield, told NationalWorld that the company is trying to take away many of the benefits that workers have until now been able to maintain as a result of high union density in the sector.

Ms Kon says the proposed changes would see workers lose out on sick pay, enforce later start times which could force those with childcare commitments out of the job and change working hours drastically, leaving workers “totally unable to plan our lives.”

Referring to the letter, she said: “It’s an 8 page document explaining how they’re going to mug us.”

“They want to give us their scraps and in return they want us to give them everything.”

Additionally, Mr Ward said that workers had also raised issues with the company’s plans to modernise the industry, saying: “Modernisation in the UK seems to be about workers having to work faster and harder for less.

“Modernisation is also it seems to us, a deliberate levelling down agenda.”

Could Royal Mail afford to offer a better pay increase?

During lockdown, the company’s revenue skyrocketed to £12.6 billion, up more than 12% on the previous year.

Royal Mail Group paid out a special dividend of £400 million in 2021, while the group’s profits rose to £726 million in the year to 28 March, compared with a profit of £180 million a year earlier.

The firm has attributed this major jump in profits to the unique conditions of the pandemic, and has been more conservative in forecasting future growth.

Overall director’s pay rose from £2.15 million in 2020 to £2.3 million in 2021, although pay for the group’s highest paid director dropped significantly from £868,078 in 2020 to £458,037 in 2021.

According to Royal Mail Group’s annual report for 2022, Royal Mail CEO Simon Thompson’s basic rate of pay increased to £543,750 from this April, with his total package worth £753,000 including a performance bonus.

At the press conference following the announcement of the ballot result, Mr Ward said, “They chose to prioritise shareholders by handing out 400 million to shareholders at the same time they decided to impose a pay rise of 2% on its workforce.

“They also managed to award themselves bonuses of up to £145,000. There is something fundamentally wrong in the UK today, its something we’ve got to take on.

“We can’t carry on like this, workers are always paying the price.”

While bosses were awarded bonuses upwards of £100,000 and profits soared, Royal Mail announced in 2020 that it would cut 2,000 management roles by March 2021, as a result of poor business performance.

Trade union Unite, which represents around 6,000 managers at the company, criticised the cuts following the announcement.

They said: “[It] is a classic example of trying to reposition a business to create a viable long-term future, while feeling under pressure to make short-term cuts that only hinder that transition.”

Royal Mail sources say industrial action will have a long-term impact on the business, which is increasingly focused on parcels rather than letters and therefore competing with different types of companies, often with worse employment practices.

A Royal Mail spokesperson said: "We believe there are no grounds for industrial action. We offered a deal worth up to 5.5% for CWU grade colleagues, the biggest increase we have offered for many years, which was rejected by the CWU.

“We need to reach an agreement on the changes required to ensure Royal Mail can grow and remain competitive in a fast-moving industry, securing jobs for the future and retaining our place as the industry leader on pay and terms and conditions.”

Post Offices close in separate strike action

In a separate dispute, Post Offices across Britain closed for one day last month, after workers voted to strike against a “massive” real-terms pay cut.

Strike action took place on 11 July, across 114 Crown Post Office branches.

Workers backed industrial action by 97.3%, after rejecting a pay offer of 3% plus a £500 bonus.

This was the third national strike by Post Office workers in 2022.

Additionally, Post Office managers represented by Unite also voted to take industrial action this month, although this has since been suspended so talks can continue.

More than 2,000 managers were due to strike on 20-22 July over plans to cut 700 jobs and reduce pay, but a new offer put to workers via a ballot resulted in a vote to resume talks.

Unite has warned that “there is more talking to do” and called on Royal Mail to revise its current offer so that the dispute can be fully resolved.