Royal Mail has stopped a pre-Christmas revolt by postal workers in its tracks.
At the High Court this afternoon, Mr Justice Swift decided that a ballot organised by the Communication Workers Union (CWU) was flawed and therefore null and void.
The judgement means the union can no longer proceed with its threat to strike during the general election and the run-up to Christmas.
Last month, members of the WU overwhelmingly back industrial action by 97% on a turnout of almost 76%. However, Royal Mail successfully argued there were “irregularities” in the ballot.
Union members are required to vote in private at home rather than at work.
Royal Mail said it had evidence that the CWU ”interfered” with the process by encouraging members to intercept their ballot papers at work, vote immediately, then share images of themselves returning the papers by post on social media.
Dave Ward, the general secretary of the CWU, said he was “extremely angry and bitterly disappointed” on behalf of Royal Mail’s 110,000 staff.
This is the second time Royal Mail has managed to frustrate CWU plans for industrial action. In 2017, a strike ballot was also overturned by a High Court judge.
The CWU may appeal and may decide to re-ballot, either way the moment has passed. The risk of strike action this side of Christmas can safely be said to be zero.
The granting of the injunction means that shopping orders that are placed on Black Friday and Cyber Monday should now arrive as scheduled. Christmas cards can be sent and postal votes returned with confidence.
Royal Mail argued a national walkout during a general election presented a threat to democracy, potentially denying millions their right to vote.
When the election was called, the CWU seized what it thought was an opportunity to deliver a knockout punch in a long-running dispute.
The union went out of its way to encourage the anxiety that the postal ballot would be targeted in a way it surely now regrets.
In practice, I suspect strike dates would have been staggered to avoid both disruption and the outrage it would have caused. It hardly matters now.
Royal Mail’s share price rose on news the injunction had been granted. Industrial action at the busiest time of year would have been costly for a company that is already struggling to roll with the times.
Letter volumes have halved in the last 15 years and continue to decline. Parcel volumes are growing but competition is ferocious and the likes of Hermes and DPD employ their postal workers on far less generous terms.
Strike action has been thwarted but the dispute rumbles on. At its heart are a series of complicated disagreements about a shorter working week, allegations of bullying by management, mechanisation and the sustainability of the “one price goes anywhere” universal postal service the company is obliged to offer by law.
The gaps between the two sides is wide and this High Court battle will have done little to enable common ground to be found.