Updated: Mar 19, 2020
The postal workers' union has vowed to halt plans for a strike so posties can act as an "emergency service" for people in need due to coronavirus.
Union chiefs say posties could deliver medical aid, check on the elderly and vulnerable and support people working from home as COVID-19 spreads across the country.
The Communication Workers Union today announced members had voted for industrial action by 94.5%, on a 63.4% turnout - after a lengthy legal battle with Royal Mail.
But CWU general secretary Dave Ward said "it is not the right moment" to strike and the union would need to "act in a very responsible way."
He said he will hold talks with Royal Mail's chief executive tomorrow and offer to put the strike on hold - if demands from the union to protect workers' safety, and drop "ridiculous" changes to working practices, are accepted.
"There needs to be a truce while we deal with this national crisis," he said.
Writing for the Mirror, Mr Ward said: "If we can agree the introduction of the very best health and safety provisions and equipment that can guarantee our members safety, they will become an additional emergency service.
"Postal workers can play a crucial role in to keep everyone in this country connected & informed, delivering medical aid, checking on the elderly and vulnerable, delivering local to local services and supporting people working from home.
"We could also assist with foodbank collections and the delivery of food parcels to those most in need."
The Communication Workers' Union has been in a long court dispute with Royal Mail over plans for a strike.
The firm won a High Court injunction in November to block potential strikes after members voted to back walkouts by 97% on a turnout of 76%.
During the hearing, Royal Mail claimed the union orchestrated a "de facto workplace ballot", contrary to rules on industrial action, to maximise the turnout and the "yes" vote.
CWU lawyers argued there was no evidence of interference with the ballot and that "legitimate partisan campaigning" by the union in favour of a "yes" vote did not violate the rules.
When we embarked on our national industrial ballot just two weeks ago, the landscape for our members, the business and our country was incredibly different.
Despite the fact that our members have overwhelmingly voted for industrial action for the third time in less than three years, our union recognises that the growing public health crisis is changing the language of priorities for our members and the country.
We recognise that our members provide the only service that connects every address in this country via Royal Mail Group’s universal service – something our dispute is seeking to protect.
Now, as the Coronavirus crisis deepens, the need for the union and the company to work together is of paramount importance, and so we have made a proposal to the company based on putting the national interest first.
Our focus going forward will be on three fundamental issues:
First, to do whatever we need to do to make sure our members are safe at work.
Second, to serve the country at this moment of unprecedented crisis as an additional emergency service.
Third, to put in place measures to sustain the business and our member’s jobs.
At the heart of our dispute has been that we believe it would be a fundamental error for Royal Mail to put all its eggs in one basket and turn the company into another glorified parcels courier.
This position has never been more appropriate given the crisis that we all now face.
The reality is that Royal Mail is the only public service in this country that connects every city, town, village and rural community on a daily basis.
Postal workers are embedded in every community in the UK. They are trusted figures. They are part of the social fabric of society. It’s time to utilise the companies unrivalled infrastructure and daily reach across every City, Town, village and rural community, remembering that for a lot of people the only person they will see every day will be their local postal worker.
With this in mind we have called for Royal Mail Group to step back from their attacks in the workplace, imposing un-agreed change and destroying the very morale and vocational sense of purpose the nation now needs and work with the union to enact our proposal.
If we can agree the introduction of the very best health and safety provisions and equipment that can guarantee our members safety, they will become an additional emergency service.
Postal workers can play a crucial role in to keep everyone in this country connected & informed, delivering medical aid, checking on the elderly and vulnerable, delivering local to local services and supporting people working from home.
We could also assist with foodbank collections and the delivery of food parcels to those most in need.
In any national emergency in our history and in our day to day existence the universal postal service has played a vital role, these unprecedented events remind us all of that postal workers always come through and will stand ready to serve the nation again but Royal Mail Group must play their part by agreeing our proposal and ensuring the very best standards of safety and support to its employees.