Royal Mail workers to go on strike in November
Royal Mail workers have voted to go on national 24-hour strike on 4 November.
The vote, which the Communication Workers Union (CWU) said was four-to-one in favour, would be the first national strike at Royal Mail in almost four years.
It says it is holding the strike to protect workers' terms and conditions at the privatised Royal Mail.
The Royal Mail said in a statement that it was "very disappointed" by the announcement.
The CWU added that it was hoping to agree a settlement in the next two weeks which would avert the strike.
Royal Mail staff were given free shares in the company, in an attempt to improve labour relations.
On Tuesday, Royal Mail confirmed that full-time staff would receive 725 shares, worth £3,545 at Tuesday's close. Staff are not allowed to sell their shares for at least three years.
The shares, which had their first full day of trading, are currently at 475p - below their 489p high, but well above their sale price of 330p.
The CWU's deputy general secretary, Dave Ward, said: "Postal workers have spoken very clearly that they care about their jobs, terms and conditions far more than they care about shares.
"We have said from the beginning that we want an agreement and we still do. We have offered the company a two-week period to reach an agreement and having already had many hours of negotiation, this is achievable if there is a will."
The union said it wanted to forge a long-term, legally binding agreement that protected postal workers' job security, pay and pensions to avoid what it said could become a "race to the bottom" in employment terms.
Royal Mail pointed out that 63% of union members had voted in the ballot, and that although 78% of those voting had backed the strike, that left a majority of the workforce that did not support industrial action.
The company said it would do all it could to minimise the impact of any industrial action on customers' mail.
Business Secretary Vince Cable said the government would not intervene. He said he thought the workers had been offered a good deal but that it was for the company and the union to work it out.
"When it was in public ownership - and of course it no longer is - we took the view that this is an arm's length body, it operates commercially, it's not a branch of government, and the industrial relations issues should be sorted out by the management and the unions sitting together," he said.
The Direct Marketing Association, which represents the advertising mail industry, said the strike would damage "tens of thousands" of companies, charities and others.
Its executive director, Chris Combemale, said: "Commercial users account for the biggest percentage of Royal Mail's turnover. Any disruption to service would quickly lead businesses to take their custom elsewhere, which is an outcome that would not benefit the postal workers that CWU represents."
The CWU fears the possible franchising of individual offices or delivery rounds, as well as the potential introduction of a cheaper workforce on two-tier terms and conditions.
The ballot involved 115,000 postal workers in Royal Mail and Parcelforce, but not the Post Office, which is a separate business.
CWU says it represents all non-managerial staff in Royal Mail Group working as delivery people, sorting staff, drivers, administration and back-office roles.