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Norwich businesses call for end to post strike

PUBLISHED: 07:30 23 October 2009 | UPDATED: 14:51 06 July 2010

Norfolk's business community last night called for an end to the postal dispute amid fears of the “catastrophic” impact if it continues.

Norfolk's business community last night called for an end to the postal dispute amid fears of the "catastrophic" impact if it continues.

Norfolk's business community last night called for an end to the postal dispute amid fears of the 'catastrophic' impact if it continues.

As the region braced itself for the second day of strike action today, and with further walkouts announced for next week, business bosses have voiced fears about the impact on traders who rely on the Royal Mail.

Norfolk's business community last night called for an end to the postal dispute amid fears of the “catastrophic” impact if it continues.

As the region braced itself for the second day of strike action today, and with further walkouts announced for next week, business bosses have voiced fears about the impact on traders who rely on the Royal Mail.

Members of the Communication Workers Union (CWU) are staging two 24-hour walkouts, crippling mail deliveries across the country following a dispute over Royal Mail's pay and modernisation plans.

The union has announced a fresh wave of walk-outs starting next Thursday and launched an attack on business secretary Lord Mandelson who they accused of “working hand in hand with the Royal Mail” to “undermine the dispute”.

Last night. Chris Starkie, chief executive of Shaping Norfolk's Future, said: “It could be catastrophic to a significant number of businesses which rely on selling through the post.

“To have your orders stop for two days and then more potentially next week could finish off your business.

“We know that Norwich is the eBay capital of the country and we have lots of small businesses that trade through eBay and many of them will get their goods sent out by post.”

Robin Twigge , East Anglia Regional Chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, said: “The industrial action by postal workers is one of the single most disruptive occurrences for small businesses.

“The wild cat strikes across the regions have already had a damaging effect on small businesses, but this mail strike could be catastrophic for already small struggling companies and firms.”

Mr Twigge said that 70 pc of small businesses relied on Royal Mail for more than half their business post and would lose money because of the strikes.

David Parish, and president of the West Norfolk Council of the Norfolk Chamber of Commerce, said the industrial action delayed payments for both small and large businesses.

Mr Parish, the managing director of System3 Business Solutions Ltd based at Grimston, near King's Lynn, added: “It's not very helpful and encourages businesses to look elsewhere.

“It's like they are almost hitting the self destruct button for Royal Mail if they continue. As the man in the street we don't know too much about their issues. I'm sure it's a change in their working practices they don't like but very many industries have had to adapt and change. We have to adapt if we're going to survive.”

Nigel Dowdney, who owns independent stores in Stalham and Earlham and a member of the Association of Convenience Stores, said: “The major problem for us is we get our price lists and stuff like that through the post. They will be delayed which means we could miss order schedules… Apart from that it's paying bills which most of us do by cheque and through the post.”

Mr Dowdney said the two day strike would not be too much of a problem for most small businesses, but stressed further strikes in the run-up to Christmas could be hugely damaging.

He added: “For us Christmas is a very important time and we do a lot of stamps and Christmas cards. That could affect us if customers decided not to send Christmas cards because of strikes.”

Caroline Williams, chief executive of the Norfolk Chamber of Commerce, said many businesses have had to make alternative arrangements because of the strikes.

She said: “The postal service is still an important link for businesses and over the last two months businesses have begun to prepare by looking at other alternatives, such as online banking and communications to ease the problems strike action causes.”

Across the region postal workers took to the picket lines yesterday with workers at mail offices in Yarmouth, Dereham, North Walsham, and Holt among those striking.

Delivery drivers and postmen from elsewhere in the region, including Lowestoft, Diss, were set to strike today.

Workers at the Norwich Mail Centre on Thorpe Road, Norwich, were among thousands of people throughout the region and the country to take part in yesterday's 24-hour walk out.

Loraine Bush, area processing representative for the CWU Eastern 3 branch, which covers Norfolk and part of north Suffolk, was one of those on the picket line.

She said: “On the early shift only three people went in and while we would've preferred 100pc we will accept just three people going in. We're not anti-modernisation, all we're saying is it should come in after negotiations and not a dictate by Royal Mail.”

Details of how long the new strikes will last and which group of workers will be involved will be announced in the coming days.

The union has offered "unconditional" talks at the conciliation service Acas in a bid to break the deadlocked row over jobs, pay and modernisation.

Deputy general secretary Dave Ward said: "We have today served notice for further strike action. However, these strikes can be avoided. We have a week in which to reach an agreement. We are determined to get an agreement. We want Royal Mail to join us at Acas and work with us to achieve one.

Mark Higson, Royal Mail's managing director, said it was "appalling but sadly not surprising" that more strikes had been called.

He said: "Any pretence from the CWU that they care about customers or about the future of the postal service is now shown to be totally dishonest.

"The CWU leadership has failed to honour and deliver the agreement we both negotiated on Tuesday night that would have averted this week's strikes, ensured no further strikes until the end of the year - and given both parties a period of calm for further talks and to give customers the service they deserve between now and Christmas."

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