Royal Mail workers are to strike on Christmas Eve and throughout December in industrial action that could bring misery to millions hoping to send presents and cards.
The Communication Workers Union last night said it would not allow bosses at Royal Mail "to destroy the livelihoods of postal workers.”
The union said workers would strike on December 9, 11, 14, 15, 23 and 24.
The action comes as millions of people celebrating Christmas will be hoping to use Royal Mail to deliver festive gifts and cards to their loved ones, as well as to order goods for parties and dinners. The CWU had already targeted the Black Friday weekend with strikes scheduled for Nov 24, 25, 30 and Dec 1, when shoppers flock to online stores to sweep up bargains before Christmas.
A Communication Workers Union spokesperson said: “The CWU want a negotiated settlement with Royal Mail Group and will continue to engage the company to that end.
“But those in charge of Royal Mail need to wake up and realise we won’t allow them to destroy the livelihoods of postal workers.”
A Royal Mail spokesperson said: “Our preference is for an agreement with the CWU but the change we need is not optional.
“They should be focused on a resolution to this dispute for their members and the long-term health of the business, rather than damaging strike action.”
News of the fresh strikes comes a day after Royal Mail said talks with the union aimed at averting a strike had been extended.
Royal Mail, the UK arm of International Distribution Services, has been locked in a bitter dispute with the CWU over pay and job conditions, leading to several days of strikes this year.
Meanwhile Royal Mail is accelerating plans to axe Saturday letter deliveries by asking the Government to consider changing postal laws to allow a five-day-a-week operation.
The postal monopoly, which has a legal requirement under its “Universal Service Obligation” to deliver letters six-days-a-week, is seeking permission for “an early move to five day letter delivery”.
Ending weekend deliveries would save the company £225m-a-year. It would also allow Royal Mail to focus on a seven-day-a-week parcel operation so that it can better compete with tech-savvy rivals such as Amazon, it said.
As fewer people send letters and parcel deliveries boom on the back of growing sales of goods online, Royal Mail is trying to push through a host of changes to the way it operates.
The CWU is resisting proposals to change working practices and automate the business to cut costs. Union chiefs have also so far rejected a new pay deal worth up to a 9pc rise over the next two years.
Announcing the company’s half-year results on Thursday, chairman Keith Williams said: “The difference between the performances of our two companies could not be more stark.
“GLS [a subsidiary of Royal Mail] has adapted well to inflationary pressures across its geographies. However, we have been standing at a crossroads with CWU in the UK for several months. We are now heading in a clear direction in light of the substantial losses in Royal Mail.”
Royal Mail UK operations posted a £219m loss in the six months to September 2022 compared with its overseas business that turned £162m operating profit.
Ending Saturday letter deliveries is expected to provoke a backlash within Westminster, with backbench MPs on both sides of the political aisle likely to oppose plans to reform the service.
Simon Thompson, Royal Mail chief executive, said: “We have always been clear we need change to survive. We have started turning the business around and will do whatever it takes. We have worked hard to deploy our contingency plans to minimise disruption to customers and impact on revenue.
“Our infrastructure plans are on time and we are now making the operational changes to turn Royal Mail into a thriving business that will provide great service for our customers at a competitive price and long term job security for our people. “We would prefer to reach an agreement with the CWU, but in any case we are moving ahead with changes to transform our business.”