Royal Mail has won a court order to block a union ballot that could have resulted in strike action during the election and run-up to Christmas.
The company sought an injunction at the High Court, citing “irregularities” with the voting process which delivered an overwhelming result in favour of walkouts in a long-running dispute over job security and terms of employment.
Royal Mail alleged voting violations at more than 70 of its UK sites, including instances of intimidation of staff.
The Communication Workers Union (CWU) described the ruling as an “utter outrage”.
It had argued in court that the result represented the largest ‘yes’ vote since the creation of the Trade Union Act three years ago.
It had not announced any strike dates, pending the conclusion of the company’s dispute resolution procedure, but rebuffed an offer for talks with no preconditions if it agreed to rule out strikes ahead of the key Christmas delivery season.
Royal Mail had also flagged possible disruption to postal voting ahead of the election if the ballot was allowed to stand.
Mr Justice Swift ruled there was clear “interference” as the union took advantage of members’ employment as postal workers to “encourage” them to take their voting papers from work before they were delivered to their homes, and vote while at work.
He added: “In this case, in respect of the conduct of the general election and the part played in that election by postal votes, there is a relevant wider public interest that is material to my conclusion that an injunction should be granted.”
The Union described the election element of the judgment as an “absolute disgrace”.
Outside court, CWU general secretary Dave Ward said Royal Mail’s action amounted to a “cowardly and vicious
attack on its own workforce” and indicated an appeal was being prepared.
He said: “CWU members will be and are extremely angry and bitterly disappointed that one judge has granted Royal Mail an injunction to invalidate our ballot for strike action.
“We balloted over 110,000 members and they voted by over 97% in favour of strike action in a massive 76% turnout.
“Not one single person out of 110,000 who were balloted complained to Royal Mail that their right to vote was interfered with.
“Not one single person out of 110,000 who were balloted complained to the independent scrutineers that their right to vote was interfered with.”
He added: “This injunction is not only a massive injustice to our members, it’s also an injustice to every worker in the country.
“We all need to wake up and recognise that this Tory government has deliberately stacked the rules against workers in favour of the constituency they were born to serve – which is big business and the establishment.”
The ruling delivered some welcome news to Royal Mail after the company lost an appeal on Tuesday against a £50m fine imposed by the regulator Ofcom for breaching competition law.
Royal Mail’s managing director of regulation and corporate affairs, Shane O’Riordain, said the company was responding to the strike ballot ruling by formally asking the union to review its processes.
He said: “We are very pleased with the outcome today.
“We wished it had never come to court, we asked to resolve this with the CWU without resorting to court action, but we are pleased with the outcome.”
He added: “We also want to say now to the CWU that our offer, to get onto the table and to talk about issues on the basis of a binding commitment from the union that there will not be industrial action in the run-up to a general election, that remains in place.”