Royal Mail general election strike blocked by High Court

Yohannes Lowe
Members of the Communication Workers Union recently voted to strike amid a dispute with management over pay and other employment conditions - AFP

The Royal Mail has won a high court injunction preventing a mass postal strike planned for the run-up to Christmas after a judge raised fears that a mass walkout could interfere with the general election.

Members of the Communication Workers Union (CWU), which represents two thirds of the Royal Mail workforce, overwhelmingly supported the strikes by 97% last month, following unrest over employment conditions and job security.

But the Royal Mail sought an injunction to block the result, yesterday claiming that the union attempted a “denial of democracy” by unlawfully coercing staff to strike shortly before the election, when millions of voters will cast their ballot through the post.

The judge agreed with the company's lawyers that members were “encouraged” to intercept their ballot papers at work and vote immediately for the 'yes' option, rather than at home away from any pressure.  

The decision was this afternoon met with outrage from the CWU, who responded by accusing ministers of putting pressure on Royal Mail to block any significant industrial action before December 12. Union leaders also faced a backlash from members asking why videos of staff casting their ballots at work had been posted on social media.

Speaking outside of the High Court, Terry Pullinger, the Deputy General Secretary of the CWU, said: “I know there's people saying the unions messed up. That's nonsense! 

Royal Mail employees attend a rally organised by the CWU Credit: Oli Scarff/Getty Images

“Everyone knows we are up against it. The courts of justice, this place is here to defend millionaires and the establishment. "On the first day we came here Royal Mail put a second submission in saying that people from the government had been in touch with them, worrying about the general election to deliberately put that into the judge's mind.” 

Over the two-day hearing, the union argued there was no evidence of interference with the ballot and that the “legitimate partisan campaigning” for the “yes vote” was in line with the rules.

However, Mr Justice Swift, who chaired the hearing, said that strike action risked the “delay or non-delivery” of electoral material produced by political parties and of postal votes.

Citing the 2017 general election, in which 8.4 million votes were cast via post, he added that he attached “particular importance”  to the timely deliverance and receipt of all ballot papers before December 12. 

Mr Swift said: “In this case, in respect of the conduct of the General Election and the part played in that election by postal votes, there is a relevant wider public interest that is material to my conclusion that an injunction should be granted.”

Shane O’Riordain, Royal Mail managing director of regulation and corporate affairs, told The Telegraph: “It’s important that we are able to effectively deliver postal votes, especially as rising numbers of people are choosing to cast their ballots through the post. But we strongly believe there is no case for industrial action in the first place.”

A source at the CWU said the union would still attempt to strike during the election if they win an appeal against the injunction. If the appeal fails, however, the 110,000 workers will be re-balloted in the New Year.