Small businesses in Northern Ireland are bracing for the impact of a Royal Mail strike on their operations.
UK-wide strikes are expected to take place tomorrow and Friday if talks between the Communication Workers Union and the company fail to resolve disputes over Royal Mail’s modernisation plans and employment conditions.
Talks were continuing last night, but a growing number of Northern Ireland companies that rely on online sales are making alternative arrangements in case industrial action goes ahead.
Robin Stewart runs Robinson’s Shoemakers in Carrickfergus, which manufactures and sells Irish brogues and other shoes to England and other markets, including Italy and the US via mail order.
He also sells though online trading site eBay, where customer ratings can drop sharply if postal deliveries are delayed by even a couple of days
“The way we work, if we’re slow on sending things out we get |negative feedback and that damages our business,’’ he said.
“We do five times as much business online as we do in the shop.
“It’s hard to put a value on it but all it takes is some bad feedback and that could cost us thousands.
“It won’t cost me anything |because we’ll go to somebody else but I don’t want to do it.’’
“I’ve been with Royal Mail |a long time, but I am looking at other options,” he added.
Glyn Roberts, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association said: “The prospect of yet another postal strike in Northern Ireland has provoked considerable anger amongst recession hit small businesses.
“These businesses reply on essential items of mail such as invoices and cheques to be received for their day to day cash flow.
“Retailers who have a significant element of online or mail order are likely to be hit the hardest and are facing the prospect of significant loss of trade, not just because of the two-day strike, but also with the considerable backlog which will result of it.”
The Centre for Economics and Business Research last week estimated a seven-day national postal strike could lose the Northern Ireland economy £34m with small business likely to be most affected because most large corporations use alternative business mail sources.
Royal Mail has more than 4,000 employees in Northern Ireland.