Royal Mail staff to be offered up to £2,000 each as part of privatisation

Communications union says postal workers will not 'sell their souls' for a 10% stake in the 'great British flog-off'

More than 100,000 postmen and women will be promised a personal windfall of up to £2,000 each as part of the controversial £3bn privatisation of Royal Mail.

Vince Cable, the business secretary, is expected to say on Wednesday that the government has decided to give Royal Mail staff 10% of the shares in the privatised company for free, almost free or on a buy-one-get-one-free basis.

In a statement to the House of Commons at 1.30pm to formally kickstart the sale, Cable will say Royal Mail's 150,000 UK employees will eventually collect up to £300m worth of shares by the time the government sells all of the company.

The government has already committed to granting 10% of the shares to Royal Mail staff, but has yet to state whether they would be given away for free or at a steep discount. Sources close to the government said they expected the shares would be given away for free, but stressed that a final decision had yet to be made.

Cable hopes the offer of free shares will win over staff who are vehemently opposed to privatisation, expected to come in a £2bn-3bn flotation on the London Stock Exchange this autumn.

However, Billy Hayes, general secretary of the Communication Workers Union (CWU), which represents more than 100,000 postal workers, said they would not "sell their soul" for a 10% stake.

"Nobody outside of government and their potential investors wants their postal service sold," he said. "The public consistently oppose the sale and recently 96% of workers voted against."

The union will continue to protest against the "great British flog-off" of Royal Mail, which dates back 497 years to the reign of Henry VIII, by taking its open-top protest bus to parliament as Cable gets to his feet. Hayes warned Cable that the union would continue to "fight every step of the way" and said a strike was certain.

The CWU hopes the threat of sustained industrial unrest will scare off institutional investors from buying shares in the state-owned delivery service and force the collapse of the sell-off.

Hayes promised on Tuesday night to meet ministers at any time to discuss other alternatives to privatisation. "It's never too late to change direction. We are offering the government the opportunity to discuss how best to genuinely take Royal Mail forward," he said in a letter to the business department. "It's time for vested interests and political opportunism to be set aside and to seize the chance to make the mail service work for customers, the company and the workforce."

Staff will not be able to collect all of the shares at the time of the flotation, with the release staggered over several years. Workers will not end up with 10% of the equity until the state has sold all of its shareholding.

Cable is expected to announce the government intends to float just over half of the company in the first instance, with the remainder to be sold in coming years.

The public will also be able to buy Royal Mail shares, in a similar way to the "Tell Sid" campaign to encourage people to buy into the privatisation of British Gas in 1986. Royal Mail workers will have preferential access enabling them to buy even more shares.


Rupert Neate

The GuardianTramp

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