Royal Mail PLC’s (LON:RMG) workers have voted strongly in favour of a national postal strike but, in view of Britain’s new social distancing measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus, have offered to become “an additional emergency service”.

The Communications Workers Union (CWU) voted 94.5% in favour of industrial action over pay and conditions, with 63.4% of the trade union’s members taking part in the ballot. 

But rather than go on strike, the CWU offered a truce to Royal Mail management and suggested postmen and postwomen could become an additional emergency service, helping support people working home, carrying out foodbank collections and bringing food parcels to vulnerable people forced to self-isolate.

The result of the union’s ballot was posted on Tuesday afternoon, a day after the government called for the British public to avoid going to pubs, clubs, restaurants, cinemas and theatres, with anyone aged over 70 advised to self-isolate for several weeks.

Setting aside differences

Saying it wanted to “set aside our differences” with management, the CWU said the unique nature of the postal workers network, which already goes door-to-door in every city, town, village and rural community in the country, could play a crucial role and “keep everyone in this country connected and informed, delivering medical aid, checking on the elderly and vulnerable, delivering local to local services and supporting people working from home”.

Any agreement would need to be subject to prioritising workers’ health and safety and for Royal Mail management “to step back from their attacks in the workplace”, the CWU said, pointing to the imposition of “un-agreed change” and “destroying” morale.

Workers and management had agreed a deal on pay, pensions and working hours in 2018, a few months before Rico Back took over at chief executive of the FTSE 250 group.

But with productivity levels waning, Back wants to make changes such as introducing fully-automated processes and last month made a public offer to workers of a 6% pay rise over the next three years, an increase below the current rate of RPI inflation.

The public announcement of the offer, going over the heads of the CWU’s leadership, was “ill advised”, City analysts said, with the CWU saying the company was not serious about the pay offer and was just “playing to an audience” in a bid to avoid a strike.

In December, the company had a planned strike blocked in the courts over claims the union’s ballot had suffered from “irregularities”.