The union representing postal workers has lost an appeal against a High Court injunction blocking potential strikes by its members.
The Communication Workers Union (CWU) attempted to overturn an injunction granted to Royal Mail to block potential strikes related to a dispute over job security and employment terms.
Royal Mail had claimed that the vote for industrial action – supported by 97% on a 76% turnout – was invalid because members had been encouraged to open their voting papers at work before they were delivered to their homes.
The Court of Appeal dismissed the CWU’s appeal on Thursday afternoon, ruling that “the conduct of the union… had the effect of amounting to interference” with the voting process.
Lord Justice Males, sitting with Lady Justice Simler and Sir Patrick Elias, said that “the union did not intend to do anything unlawful”, but ruled that the ballot was nonetheless invalid.
The judge added that the court would give its full reasons for its decision at a later date.
Speaking outside the Royal Courts of Justice, the CWU’s senior deputy general secretary Tony Kearns told PA that it was “the clear democratic will of the employees of Royal Mail and members of the CWU to take strike action, as is their human right”.
He added: “And we’ve seen here today, in a matter of seconds, three appeal court judges override that democracy.”
Mr Kearns said the union would now consider having another ballot, but would wait until the court’s full ruling was published.
In a statement after the ruling, Shane O’Riordain, Royal Mail’s managing director of regulation and corporate affairs, said: “Royal Mail is pleased that the Court of Appeal has upheld the High Court’s decision to grant an interim injunction against CWU meaning that no industrial action can be taken before the completion of a lawful ballot. This decision still stands.
“We did not take the decision to go to the High Court lightly. We sought to reach resolution outside the courts. It is vital that our colleagues are able to vote without any constraint imposed upon them by any other party.
“We want to reach agreement. As previously announced, we have written to CWU to say we want to enter into discussions without preconditions. Following this offer, we are hopeful that we can now follow on with meaningful discussions with the union to resolve this dispute.”
Earlier, the Court of Appeal heard that the “substantial” dispute between the CWU and Royal Mail was unlikely to be resolved “without a real threat of industrial action”.
The CWU’s barrister Lord Hendy QC argued that the injunction “effectively overrode an overwhelming vote to strike” on the basis of “trivial” infringements.
He submitted that the CWU “merely encouraged members to vote at work”, adding that “far from subverting” the voting process, “the steps the appellant took were all to ensure each member received his or her ballot paper”.
But Bruce Carr QC, for Royal Mail, said the workplace interception of ballot papers “was no spontaneous act – those who voted in this way were following the instructions given to them by the CWU”.
He added: “The extent to which the instructions were implemented is demonstrated by the geographical breadth of the evidence obtained thus far by Royal Mail Group.”
Mr Carr argued that “the CWU had subverted the ballot process … by directing its members to retrieve their ballot papers and cast their votes at work”.