Royal Mail Wins Court Bid to Block Strike During Election

Ellen Milligan

(Bloomberg) -- Want the lowdown on European markets? In your inbox before the open, every day. Sign up here.

A London court blocked a planned strike by Royal Mail Plc’s workers during the peak holiday season, easing concerns about possible disruptions to next month’s British election and sending the company’s shares up as much as 4.7%.

The world’s oldest postal service won an injunction Wednesday against the Communication Workers Union’s proposal for a national strike. A walkout vote last month received support from 97% of members as part of an ongoing dispute over issues such as shorter working weeks, pensions and job security, before the country’s general election was set.

The planned strike “risked delay or non-delivery of postal votes” in the run-up to the Parliamentary election, Judge Jonathan Swift said. More than 8 million people voted by mail in the 2017 election -- 18% of the electorate, he said.

The strike was proposed at a time to disrupt service during early December -- including so-called Cyber Week when online retailers slash prices in a bid to bring in sales ahead of the holiday season, a key time for postal delivery. General elections also tend to be peak trading periods for the company, because of the delivery of the political manifestos and postal votes.

The shares rose as much as 10.8 pence to 238.5p after Judge Swift gave his verdict. They were up 1.1% to 230.3p at 3:40 p.m. in London.

The threatened strike was “designed to cause maximum pain to the public both in relation to ‘Cyber Week’ and the Christmas period but also to disrupt the general election” on Dec. 12, lawyers for Royal Mail told the court Tuesday.

The ruling will be a welcome relief for the London-based company. Swift also refused the union’s request to allow an appeal.

Royal Mail, which was state-owned for nearly five centuries until six years ago, is also battling with consumers’ rapid shift to email from letters and is seeking a greater share of the growing market for parcels. In May, it slashed its dividend to free up 1.8 billion pounds ($2.3 billion) for a planned overhaul after earnings fell.

Royal Mail didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The union “consciously and deliberately interfered in the balloting process in order to achieve maximum turnout and a maximum vote,” Royal Mail lawyer Bruce Carr told the court during Tuesday’s hearing.

Senior union officials devised and implemented a plan designed to create a “de facto workplace ballot” by directing members to intercept ballot papers at the workplace, vote collectively and post the results on social media, he said.

CWU lawyer John Hendy said there was no evidence of interference in the ballot and that this injunction would reduce worker’s leverage in negotiations with Royal Mail.

“Genuinely this is an utter outrage,” the union posted on Twitter after the ruling. “110,000 workers vs the establishment.”

(Updates with details from 6th paragraph.)

--With assistance from Siddharth Philip.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ellen Milligan in London at emilligan11@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Anthony Aarons at aaarons@bloomberg.net, Christopher Elser

For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.