POSTAL workers’ union leaders will meet later today to discuss the outcome of marathon talks aimed at averting national strikes.
Up to 120,000 members of the Communication Workers Union are set to walk out tomorrow and Friday in the long-running row over pay, jobs and working conditions.
Union representatives and Royal Mail managers held a marathon session yesterday which went on well into the night without any real sign that the strikes could be called off.
The postal executive of the union will meet to consider any progress made at the talks, which were held against a backdrop of anger with Lord Mandelson.
He was accused yesterday of "undermining" the last-ditch talks by "misrepresenting" facts of the dispute.
The union said a statement given by the Business Secretary to the Lords would damage 11th hour negotiations with the Royal Mail.
Lord Mandelson said the need for modernisation of the postal service was clear as a result of alternative technologies such as email, text messaging and direct debits taking away some of the Royal Mail’s business.
"If it stands still, this company faces terminal decline," he said.
The management and union had agreed to three of the four phases of a modernisation plan to replace "outdated working practices", he told the Lords.
In some areas, especially London, there had been "repeated non-co-operation and industrial action to frustrate the agreement’s implementation" amid union claims the management was going beyond the terms of the deal, he said.
Billy Hayes, CWU general secretary, said: "Peter Mandelson’s re-reading of old Royal Mail press releases helps no one. Repeating the management mantra that is blatantly untrue is extremely unhelpful.
"It was only a few months ago that Lord Mandelson said Royal Mail management was unable of creating an effective industrial relations environment. He now blindly backs that same management.
"While the CWU and management are working hard to reach an agreement, Lord Mandelson is misrepresenting the facts to Parliament and undermining any progress being made in the talks.
"His comments about the dispute being centred on London are ill-informed and untrue. A 76% yes vote was returned in a nationwide ballot which is proof of this."
The Prime Minister’s spokesman said: "This is a strike which we do hope doesn’t go ahead. We have been encouraging both sides to continue to negotiate.
"The prospect of a strike like this is deeply damaging to Royal Mail’s commercial interests long-term.
"Clearly there are real concerns. The Government really hopes that the first of this wave of strikes doesn’t go ahead. This is a very difficult situation. The Royal Mail management is seeking to modernise the business, and that’s something the Government has been very supportive of.
"There is a stand-off between the unions and the management and we just want to make sure they resolve their differences as quickly as possible.
"It would be very good if Acas could be involved but it would make sense for that to happen if the unions decide to step back from a strike."
Lord Mandelson warned a walkout would be "totally self-defeating", adding that it would be easier for conciliation service Acas to play an effective role in ending the dispute if the CWU called off the action.
Further talks between the two sides could be held this morning, ahead of the meeting of the union’s postal executive.
The two sides have now held 28 hours of talks over the past two days in a bid to break the deadlocked dispute and avert the strikes.
The latest round of discussions ended in the early hours of the morning.
CWU deputy general secretary Dave Ward has been leading the union’s negotiating team and he will report back to the executive, which will decide if enough progress has been made to call off the industrial action.