ALMOST one million working days have already been lost due to industrial action at the Royal Mail since 2000, new figures revealed.
As up to 120,000 members of the Communication Workers Union prepare for two days of national strikes starting tomorrow, Government data showed that between April 2000 and October 12 this year, 992,773 working days were lost at the organisation because of disruption.
That includes 130,272 days already lost between April and October 12 this year, according to the figures in a written Commons answer from Business Minister Pat McFadden.
The last national post strike meant that 627,608 days were lost between April 2007 and March 2008 – the most disrupted 12 months in the period.NATIONAL strikes by postal workers were going ahead today and tomorrow after hopes of reaching a last minute deal collapsed.
Up to 120,000 members of the Communication Workers Union are staging two 24-hour walk-outs, crippling mail deliveries across the country.
Meanwhile, HM Revenue & Customs was urged not to fine people who were late submitting tax returns because of the strike.
The Chartered Institute of Taxation and Association of Taxation Technicians called for those who missed the October 31 deadline for paper tax returns not to be penalised.
The union warned of further strikes in the coming weeks.
and launched an extraordinary attack on Business Secretary Lord Mandelson, saying he was working "hand in hand with the Royal Mail" to "undermine the dispute".
General secretary Billy Hayes accused him of being the "minister without responsibility".
Dave Ward, the union’s deputy general secretary, said the Royal Mail had no intention of resolving the dispute and seemed intent on "sidelining’’ the concerns of postal workers.
Mr Ward, who led the union’s negotiators during marathon peace talks, said he believed progress had been made and that a deal could have been agreed which would have averted the strikes.
But he said a letter sent today to the union by Royal Mail managing director Mark Higson had "wiped out" progress which had been made during the talks and scuppered the chances of a deal.
Mr Ward said the letter from Mr Higson "completely contradicted’’ some of the issues that had been agreed during the talks and it appeared that he had a "veto’’ over the talks.
Mr Ward went on to claim that every time progress had been made during the negotiations "external forces" had deliberately attempted to undermine the chances of a deal.
He singled out three men - Mr Higson, Royal Mail chief executive Adam Crozier and Lord Mandelson.
"What we have seen in the last few days is a deliberate choreograph that tells us that the Government and the Royal Mail are working hand in hand to avert any chances of reaching a solution."
Mr Ward said he had met Lord Mandelson nine months ago when the Government was attempting to part-privatise the Royal Mail and was told that the minister had no confidence in the company’s board and management, saying they did not have the skills to transform the company.
Lord Mandelson said the only way industrial relations would improve was if Dutch company TNT was brought in to help run the business, Mr Ward claimed.
He went on: "We are absolutely clear that the real truth behind this dispute is that Lord Mandelson clearly feels it is pay-back time because we defeated him on privatisation.
"Lord Mandelson is backing the same people he said did not have the expertise to deal with the transformation of the business."
Scores of meetings have been held in recent months to try to resolve the dispute.
but Mr Ward said Lord Mandelson, Mr Crozier and Mr Higson had not attended any of them.
Mr Ward said he appreciated the inconvenience the strikes would cause but said the union genuinely believed it had "no alternative" other than to stand up for postal workers.
He repeated that the union was willing to go to the conciliation service Acas but said it was now time for senior management and Government ministers to become involved.
Mr Hayes said the union would be taking legal action against the Royal Mail over its plans to recruit 30,000 agency workers to deal with the effects of the strike as well as the Christmas rush.
Legal opinion had been received and the union would be testing the Royal Mail’s move in the High Court.
Other union leaders have warned the Government that it should take action against the Royal Mail because it was illegal to take on workers to cover for strikers involved in a legitimate dispute.
Mr Hayes said Lord Mandelson could not "walk away" from a company owned by the Government, adding: "He needs to get involved - he cannot just wash his hands of this dispute."
The two union leaders believed that the public was aware of how strongly postal workers cared about the service.
Mr Ward accused the Royal Mail of managing the "decline" of the postal service adding: "This must be the only company in the world to invest in automation which results in products being received later because businesses and customers get their mail later in the day."