Last week the Communication Workers Union (CWU) announced strike action to take place over a two week period from 25 July until 8 August. Whilst individual postal workers will strike for a total of two days each, the action has been designed to disrupt postal services continuously over the two week period.

I have received a number of postcards from constituents concerned about the actions of Royal Mail management, and the future of the postal service. Unfortunately these postcards did not carry the senders addresses, soI havebeen unable to reply to individuals.I amtherefore taking this opportunity on the website to explain my views on this issue.

The past few years have been a period of great change for the postal service. The overall mail market is shrinking by 2.5% a year, mainly as a result of changes to the way people communicate, such as emails. At the same time the industry is feeling the impact of plans to create a single postal market within the European Union. Under these circumstances a period of change is inevitable, and it is tension over how these changes are to be implemented which has led to the current disputes, and your concerns over the future of the service.

Your postcards talked about the importance of protecting the Universal Service, and I agree that this is vitally important. I have been following this issue for some time, and have become concerned about the way that liberalisation of our postal market has been undertaken. The European laws aim for a deadline of 2009 for fully opening up our market, but the regulator Postcomm decided to allow foreign competitors access right away. At the same time a number of other European countries are waiting until the deadline, so that it seems the market is becoming imbalanced, which naturally raises concerns about Royal Mails long term future. I asked about this in Parliament on 4 July, and received the following reply:

Kerry McCarthy: To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform what recent discussions he has had (a) with ministerial colleagues and (b) at the European level on (i) the timetable for liberalisation of postal services across the European Union and (ii) the effect of liberalisation on the future of the Royal Mail.

Mr. McFadden: The Department’s Ministers and officials have regular discussions with other Government Department colleagues on matters relating to the liberalisation of postal services. We also maintain ongoing dialogue with both the institutions of the European Union and the other member states.The Government support the European objective of implementing a single market for postal services by 2009: by opening up the sector to competition in a gradual and controlled way, within a regulatory framework that ensures the sustained provision of a universal service.
Royal Mail management has welcomed the introduction of competition in postal markets. The Government have recently agreed a finance framework for Royal Mail to enable the company to modernise and improve its efficiency so that it can compete successfully in a liberalised market.

In my opinion it is time to take a look at what effect this liberalisation is having on postal services in this country. It is also important that both sides engage in meaningful negotiations, so that everyone involved can have their concerns considered. I have met with Bristol CWU, and have heard from the management of Royal Mail. I am concerned that Royal Mail management do not seem to feel that negotiations with the unions will be useful, and are only prepared to meet in order to explain their business position to them. I believe that negotiations with all concerned parties are necessary, and have therefore signed Early Day Motion 1901:

That this House calls on Royal Mail to enter into meaningful negotiations with the Communications Workers Union to resolve the current postal dispute; and further calls on the Government to review the damaging impact of competition on Royal Mail to date, in line with the Labour Party’s manifesto commitment.

I am also due to meet representatives of the Communications Workers Union when they lobby Parliament today.

Thank you to all those who have written in bringing this matter to my attention. I will continue to monitor the issue, and will be in contact again if there are any significant developments. In the meantime please contact me in person if there is any help I can offer on this issue.

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