No law can restrain workers when they choose to ignore it. In Bridgwater, Somerset, Post Office workers at the delivery office walked out on 11 November without a ballot in protest at the dismissal of a colleague suffering from multiple sclerosis and who is profoundly deaf – the employer had tried numerous dirty tricks to stop the member from returning to work. They returned to work the next day, and in December the Communication Workers Union was able to announce his reinstatement.
It’s not the only recent lightning action from postal workers in the south west. On 26 October some 200 Post Office workers in Plymouth, Devon, at the city’s West Park and North Central delivery office “just walked out”’ after turning up for work to find that a number of agency workers had been taken on in breach of the national Agenda for Growth agreement with the Communication Workers Union.
In part, the purpose of the agreement is to increase the number of hours worked by part-time workers (22-hour contracts are “normal”) before resorting to the use of agency labour. The dispute has since been resolved but again, the law was not invoked.
Figures covering days lost due to strikes do not include “unofficial” stoppages. These disputes are rarely reported outside of the local media.
This kind of lightning action exposes a weakness in anti-union legislation. To attack (sack) those who have walked out, an employer must first request any union involved to repudiate the action. But by the time this is done workers will have returned to work: hit and run, effective guerrilla action.