Casual workers wait beside a shuttle bus outside a temporary Royal Mail sorting depot in Bristol yesterday
Lord Mandelson was accused last night of “undermining” last-ditch talks aimed at averting a postal workers strike by “misrepresenting” facts of the dispute.
The Communication Workers Union said a statement given by the Business Secretary to the Lords would damage 11th hour negotiations with the Royal Mail.
Marathon talks between the two sides continued throughout the day, with time running out on reaching a deal to head off national walkouts on Thursday and Friday.
Lord Mandelson said the need for modernisation of the postal service was clear as a result of alternative technologies such as email, text messaging and direct debits taking away some of the Royal Mail's business.
“If it stands still, this company faces terminal decline,” he said.
The management and union had agreed to three of the four phases of a modernisation plan to replace “outdated working practices”, he told the Lords.
In some areas, especially London, there had been “repeated non-co-operation and industrial action to frustrate the agreement's implementation” amid union claims the management was going beyond the terms of the deal, he said.
Billy Hayes, CWU general secretary, said: “Peter Mandelson's re-reading of old Royal Mail press releases helps no one. Repeating the management mantra that is blatantly untrue is extremely unhelpful.
“It was only a few months ago that Lord Mandelson said Royal Mail management was unable of creating an effective industrial relations environment. He now blindly backs that same management.”
The Prime Minister's spokesman said: “This is a strike which we do hope doesn't go ahead. The prospect of a strike like this is deeply damaging to Royal Mail's commercial interests long-term.
“There is a stand-off between the unions and the management and we just want to make sure they resolve their differences as quickly as possible.”