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Northern Ireland braced for strikes by Post Office and airport workers

By David Young

Northern Ireland is to be hit by a wave of disruption as strikes will see post offices shut and airports without baggage handlers in the run-up to Christmas.

A series of bitter industrial disputes have flared over issues including jobs, pay, pensions and safety, involving some of the country's biggest trade unions.

Six of Northern Ireland's main post offices are set to close today because of UK-wide industrial action by the Communications Workers' Union (CWU).

CWU members will strike for five days, including Christmas Eve, in protest at job losses, the closure of a final salary pension scheme and the franchising of Crown Post Offices. The post offices affected here are:

  • Antrim: Castle Centre
  • Belfast City: Bridge Street
  • Bangor: Main Street
  • Coleraine: New Row
  • Londonderry: Custom House Street
  • Newtownards: Frances Street.

The Consumer Council is advising people posting parcels and cards this week to be aware of the planned strike action taking place over Christmas week.

Michael Legg, senior policy officer at the Consumer Council, said: "If your post office is one of the six branches affected, and you cannot visit the post office on a different day or use another nearby branch, you can take your cards to a post box, as collections from Royal Mail will operate as normal."

The other 480 smaller post offices in Northern Ireland are unaffected by the strike, and they will continue to operate as normal.

A Royal Mail spokesman said: "There will be little or no impact on Royal Mail as a result of the CWU strike at the Post Office. Deliveries will carry on as normal and the last posting dates for Christmas remain unchanged."

CWU general secretary Dave Ward accused the management of rejecting a peace offer and warned of a continuing closure programme which would mean that the Post Office will cease to exist on high streets.

Meanwhile, both Belfast International and Belfast City airports will be affected by a baggage handlers' strike on December 23 and 24, and action by British Airways staff will hit Belfast-Heathrow flights.

From yesterday right up until Christmas Eve, Belfast International Airport will handle almost 700 inbound and outbound flights carrying about 110,000 passengers.

Friday is set to be the busiest day, with more than 120 flights carrying 20,000 passengers.

"We have contingency plans in place to deal with any industrial action," said an airport spokesperson. "We have teams on stand-by to minimise any disruption."

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