Lerwick workers are expected to be among the tens of thousands across the country taking part in the strike. On Thursday, many of the UK’s 42,000 mail centre staff and network drivers took action in protest at proposals from Royal Mail to modernise the way mail is handled and delivered.
Delivery and collection staff were expected to walk out on Friday morning as attempts to reach a breakthrough between the Communication Workers’ Union (CWU) and Royal Mail continued to flounder. The CWU has already proposed dates for further strike action next week.
It is anticipated that quite a few workers at the Lerwick post office will be participating in Friday’s action, though few rural workers are expected to walk out. But the knock-on effect of sorting staff striking on Thursday means that there will be a limit to what those who turn up will be able to do, as the flow of mail coming north is likely to be halted.
Members of the CWU backed the strike by a margin of 3-1 last week in protest over what the union says is the “imposition” of changes to working practices as well as pay cuts and job losses. The CWU is also angry at Royal Mail’s announcement over the weekend that it plans to bring in 30,000 temporary workers in the lead up to Christmas, more than in previous years.
Royal Mail’s head of external relations in Scotland Julie Morrison said: “Unfortunately there will be a national delivery strike on Friday but we expect all of our rural postmen and women will work as normal in Shetland on this day. In Lerwick, postmen and women may join the national action and there will be some disruption to the service but we will be doing all we can to keep this to an absolute minimum.
“Mail will still be arriving in Shetland as normal and we will be delivering special delivery and Royal Mail tracked items; the callers office will be open and mail will be collected from post boxes and Post Offices.
“We apologise for the inconvenience caused by the CWU strike action. Much of the modernisation programme has already been completed in Scotland – but all this means is for people to operate new machinery and work the hours they are paid for. There will be no more change this year and we are still continuing to talk to the union.”
Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael urged the UK Government to ensure the unions and management were brought together around the table with mediating body ACAS. He said the action risked placing the concept of a universal postal service under threat.
Mr Carmichael said: “The only winners will be private mail companies such as TNT who this week landed yet another lucrative bulk mail contract – this time from the Scottish government. The losers will undoubtedly be citizens and small businesses across Scotland who rely on having a daily delivery to every door in the country, six days a week.
“After health and education it is arguably the most important public service we have – especially for small and medium-sized businesses. The hard fact, of which both sides in the current dispute seem to have lost sight, is that this universal service is under threat.
“Only the Royal Mail will deliver mail to remoter parts of the country. Industrial action could push it over the precipice where it is currently poised. Once it is gone it will not be reinvented. That is why I wish that postal service minister Pat McFadden would take a grip of this situation and lock unions and management into the ACAS building with instructions not to come out until they have fixed a deal.”
His fellow Liberal Democrat, Shetland MSP Tavish Scott, this week described the Scottish government’s decision to use a private postal company as “deplorable” and said it was difficult to see what the SNP-led administration was doing to help Royal Mail.
It will be the second time in just over two years that postal workers in Shetland have taken part in industrial action. In July 2007 they walked out as part of a nationwide strike after receiving a below inflation pay offer.