The “substantial” dispute between the union representing postal workers and Royal Mail is unlikely to be resolved “without a real threat of industrial action”, the Court of Appeal has heard.
The Communication Workers Union (CWU) is attempting to overturn an injunction granted to Royal Mail to block potential strikes by its members in a dispute over job security and employment terms.
Royal Mail claims that the vote for industrial action – supported by 97% on a 76% turnout – was invalid because members had been encouraged to open their voting papers at work before they were delivered to their homes.
In a High Court ruling two weeks ago, Mr Justice Swift said there was “improper interference” by the union with the vote, which he found amounted to “a form of subversion of the ballot process”.
But, opening the CWU’s appeal against that decision on Thursday, Lord Hendy QC argued that the injunction “effectively overrode an overwhelming vote to strike” on the basis of “trivial” infringements.
He submitted that the CWU “merely encouraged members to vote at work”, adding that “far from subverting” the voting process, “the steps the appellant took were all to ensure each member received his or her ballot paper”.
Referring to a video of around 10 CWU members voting in public, Lord Hendy conceded that “the enthusiasm of some members evidently got the better of common sense and their desire to return a ‘yes’ vote”.
But he added: “Not voting in secret can properly be described as an error on the part of those concerned and unintentional on the part of the appellant.
“In the context of such an overwhelming expression of democracy (representing) less than 0.001% of votes it can only be described as trifling.”
In written submissions, Royal Mail’s barrister, Bruce Carr QC, said the workplace interception of ballot papers “was no spontaneous act – those who voted in this way were following the instructions given to them by the CWU”.
He added: “The extent to which the instructions were implemented is demonstrated by the geographical breadth of the evidence obtained thus far by Royal Mail Group.”
Mr Carr argued that “the CWU had subverted the ballot process … by directing its members to retrieve their ballot papers and cast their votes at work”.
He submitted: “The fact is that the CWU was in a unique position to undermine the statutory scheme that was put in place for the purpose of balloting for industrial action – it took advantage of that position to create a de facto workplace ballot.”
Lord Justice Males, Lady Justice Simler and Sir Patrick Elias will hear submissions from the CWU and Royal Mail over one day.
The judges are not expected to give a ruling on Thursday, but it is not yet known when they are likely to give a decision.