In December last the Union of Post Office Workers claimed a substantial increase in pay for postmen. At the beginning of this year the Post Office offered a three-year agreement providing increases of 4 per cent. from 1st January, 1964, and 3½ per cent. in each of the two subsequent years. The union was not willing to accept the 4 per cent. in the first year, or to use the normal machinery for resolving disputes in the Civil Service—that is, the Civil Service Arbitration Tribunal. It pressed, instead, for an independent inquiry into the pay of postmen.
After discussion it was agreed to set up a Committee, under the chairmanship of Mr. A. L. Armitage, to rule on the proper interpretation of the particular paragraph of the Report of the Royal Commission on the Civil Service, 1953–55, which was said by the union to be the crux of the matter. It was also agreed that the Committee's findings would be accepted, and that if it proved impossible to reach a settlement by negotiation in the light of the Committee's recommendations the issue would be referred to the Civil Service Arbitration Tribunal.
Broadly speaking, the Committee felt there should be more comparisons with people doing similar work in manufacturing industry and with people whose qualities compared with those of postmen. With a view to giving effect to the report, I suggested an immediate pay research survey. The team of experts who made the last survey of postmen's pay is now available and I believe that a new survey could be completed in about two months. In putting this proposal to the union last week I offered, at the same time, to increase the pay of postmen straight away by 4 per cent. as from 1st January, 1964, and I also stated that any further resulting increase in pay which stemmed from negotiations on pay research would also be backdated to 1st January, 1964.
This offer is not the same as the offer the Post Office made earlier this year. It is, however, fully consistent with the Report of the Armitage Committee.
The union's representatives rejected this proposal. They said that nothing less than an immediate increase, backdated to 1st January, 1964, of 10½ per cent., to be followed by pay research, would be acceptable. I cannot regard this as justifiable and I accordingly suggested to the union that if, on further reflection, it was still unwilling to accept the Post Office offer, it should take the case to arbitration, as, indeed, it had earlier promised to do.
As the House knows, there has already been widespread unofficial industrial action and the union has decided to call a one-day strike on Thursday to be followed by other industrial action. Postal services have already been disrupted and the inland parcel service to and from London has been suspended. As from midnight tonight I am having to suspend the inland parcel service altogether and also the inland printed paper service.
I shall, of course, do my best to minimise the inconvenience which this will inevitably cause to the public.