The Royal Mail has won a court injunction halting a planned 48-hour strike by postal workers but still faces the threat of industrial action before Christmas.
Members of the Communication Workers Union (CWU) were set to walk out from October 19 after voting massively in favour of industrial action in a long-running row over pensions, pay and jobs.
It would have been the first national walkout since Royal Mail was privatised four years ago.
Royal Mail argued in the High Court that the union was in breach of its contractual obligation not to call for strike action until an agreed external mediation process was held.
Mr Justice Supperstone granted the order, saying: “I consider the strike call to be unlawful and the defendant is obliged to withdraw its strike call until the external mediation process has been exhausted.”
The Royal Mail said the mediation process will take close to Christmas to be completed, and may be longer, but CWU officials warned that industrial action could still take place before Christmas.
General Secretary Dave Ward said: “The company are deluded if they believe their court room politics will resolve this dispute. Instead the company’s actions will have the complete opposite effect.
“Postal workers’ attitude towards the company will harden and it makes us more determined than ever to defend our members pensions, jobs, service and achieve our objectives.
“Unless the company significantly shifts its position on a range of issues and we can quickly conclude a good agreement for our members then strike action is inevitable.
“We walked into the court today with a massive 90% yes vote for strike action – we walked out of the court today with a massive 90% vote for strike action.
“We want an agreement and will comply with the injunction to undertake further external mediation. But sooner rather than later Royal Mail Group will have to confront the harsh reality that they are completely out of touch with the views of its workforce.”
Deputy General Secretary Terry Pullinger added: “We saw today that Royal Mail Group would rather spend time, money and resources playing politics than engaging with this union to reach an agreement.
“Our members are square behind the CWU and from this moment we are putting Royal Mail on notice of further action should the mediation fail.
“We will use the mediation process to seek an agreement but also to galvanise support amongst our members and the public.
“If Royal Mail Group are not serious about reaching an agreement we will not hesitate to call strike action immediately after the mediation period closes.”
Royal Mail said: “The court’s final injunction means that any strike action before the dispute resolution procedures have been followed would be unlawful.
“We will now make contact with the CWU as a matter of urgency to begin the process of external mediation. The mediation process will take close to Christmas to be completed, and may be longer.
“The first step is selecting a mediator acceptable to Royal Mail and the CWU from a panel that was agreed by both parties under the Agenda for Growth.
“The Agenda for Growth is a balanced agreement which gives significant protections to Royal Mail employees. In return, the CWU committed to an industrial stability framework with defined processes and strict timescales to resolve disputes. We want to use them to do just that.
“We are very committed to working closely with the CWU in order to reach agreement as a matter of priority.”
Speaking outside the court, Mr Ward said there was now a timeframe for a round of external mediation, adding: “We believe that still means we can take action before Christmas.”
Gill Furniss, shadow minister for postal services, said: ”Royal Mail’s decision to take the dispute to the High Court – and today’s ruling – are extremely disappointing.
“CWU members voted by a momentous 89.1% in favour of industrial action in defence of secure pay, pensions and the future of the service.
“Despite this setback Labour will continue to support Royal Mail workers in their fight for decent pay and conditions.”