§ 2.35 p.m.
§ [The Question was as follows:
§ To ask whether Her Majesty's Government has been made aware of complaints by the Post Office Engineering Union that the Post Office has not been prepared adequately to negotiate on its wage claims; has failed to reply to such claims within a reasonable time; and over a long period has forced the Union unreasonably to resort to arbitration; and whether a statement can be made.]
§ THE POSTMASTER GENERAL (EARL DE LA WARR)
My Lords, these same complaints were made by the Union to the Royal Commission on the Civil Service last June, and until the Commission reports the matter is largely subjudice. They were, however, put before me personally by a deputation from the Union on the 12th November. I then stated, as I say now, that the range of claims in question have been dealt with reasonably—that is to say, according to the general principles for settling Civil Service pay, based on the Report of the Royal Commission, 1929–31, under the Chairmanship of the late Lord Tomlin.
I am sorry that the P.O.E.U. do not like having at times to use the Civil Service Arbitration Tribunal. Resort to it is a long-established feature of our negotiating machinery and has been accepted by the Staff Side of the National Whitley Council, of which the Union is a member. The Union have suggested that an independent person should be appointed 28 as a mediator between the Post Office and themselves, without prejudice to their right to go to the Arbitration Tribunal. I am afraid that I see no point in adopting unprecedented and quite superfluous machinery of this kind.
On the charge of delay, I must assert that when large sums are at stake time is needed to examine claims which can be paid for only out of the pockets of the public. But in the case of claims which have lately been under discussion, I cannot admit any delay that is in any way the responsibility of the Post Office. On the first of the Union's principal current claims I gave my reply on June 14, and ever since then it has been open to the Union to appeal to the Arbitration Tribunal, if they wished to press their case further. On the second, I made them an offer on September 21. They came to see me on November 12, and said that the recent centrally negotiated Treasury award to a number of Civil Service Unions was more generous than my offer, and that this proved that my offer was inadequate. I pointed out that there was little overall difference between the two, and that although the Civil Service award was more generous to some, it was less favourable to others. In any event, I said that I had no strong feeling on the matter, and that they were at liberty to make their choice. On November 29 they accepted my offer of the general Civil Service settlement. I confess now to being a little puzzled as to why the P.O.E.U. have felt it necessary to circulate their complaints to Members of Parliament. It would have been more normal—even if they disagreed with my offer—to have taken us to arbitration, but with an offer before them which they considered acceptable I find it difficult to understand just where the complaint lies.
While on this subject of Post Office wages, it may interest your Lordships to know that during the last month alone a total of about £7 million a year has been added to our staff costs, not by arbitration but by agreement between my office and the Staff Associations.