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:
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.
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.
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.