§ Mr. Pounder
asked the Postmaster-General if he will make a statement on the strike of telephone operators on the London exchanges which paralysed long-distance operator-dialled calls between 10 p.m. and midnight on Monday 19th July.
§ Mr. Benn
I deplore the unofficial action by some night telephonists in support of their claim for a pay rise of £1 a week. This started last night and reports show that it affected 28 exchanges and involved about 200 operators. There is no doubt that it caused inconvenience to the public.
The men concerned are members of the National Guild of Telephonists who, last year, signed a three year agreement with the Post Office under which they have already received a 3½ per cent. increase this year. Their new claim is quite incompatible with this agreement which provides for the Civil Service Pay Research Unit to start an examination of the pay of telephonists at the end of this year. A recent ballot among Guild members failed to produce the necessary majority for strike action and this strike is therefore unofficial.198W
The telephone service is an essential service and the public are entitled to be protected against irresponsible action of this kind.
There is no question whatever of the Post Office making a further offer as the result of the pressure which is being brought to bear. Those concerned will have their pay stopped for those hours that they are refusing to work normally. Unless this stops immediately further action will have to be considered. Meanwhile I greatly regret the inconvenience to the public. I hope that those living in the areas affected will try to avoid making calls between 10 p.m. and midnight until normal working is resumed. This will allow genuinely urgent calls to be put through.