On application by the claimant Royal Mail Group, the Queen’s Bench Division granted an injunction to restrain the defendant Communication Workers Union (CWU) from unlawfully calling strike action in locations across the United Kingdom. The court held that the strike call was unlawful. The dispute between the parties had not, in line with a collective agreement between themselves, been referred to external mediation. The CWU would still have the opportunity to call its members out on strike if external mediation turned out to be unsuccessful.
Royal Mail Group Ltd v Communication Workers Union  EWHC 2548 (QB) Queen’s Bench Division - Supperstone J - 13 October 2017
Industrial relations – Industrial dispute – Act done in contemplation or furtherance of an industrial dispute
The claimant, RMG, was the principal employer of all those who worked within the Royal Mail, and the national provider of a postal service across Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The defendant, the CWU, was a trade union recognised by RMG for the purposes of collective bargaining. The CWU was recognised for all non-managerial operational employees of whom there were over 130,000 working across the United Kingdom.
There had been a long-running trade dispute between the parties over various issues including continuation/extension of a national collective agreement between the parties titled ‘Agenda for Growth, Stability and Long Term Success’ (the agreement) (for relevant sections of the agreement, see - of the judgment).
The CWU had called for its members to strike in locations across the UK in furtherance of a trade dispute, for 24 hours from 19 to 20 October 2017. The RMG applied for an injunction to restrain the CWU from unlawfully calling strike action.
Issues and decisions
Whether the strike call had been in breach of the agreement.
The CWU’s submissions on the construction of the agreement would be rejected. The wording was clear. Either party might refer the matter for external mediation at any time after one month of discussions commencing unless both parties agreed that the disagreement was likely to be resolved within a further agreed period. There was no express requirement in the relevant provisions of the agreement requiring a party referring a matter for external mediation to do so within a specified time (see ,  of the judgment).
The provisions of the agreement, in particular para 3.2 of Sch 3, permitted the claimant to refer the present dispute to external mediation at the time it had. Accordingly, the strike call had been unlawful and the CWU had been in continuing breach of its contractual obligation not to call for strike action until the external mediation process had been exhausted (see ,  of the judgment).
Damages were not an adequate remedy in the present case. Taking into consideration the financial and logistical consequences of a strike for RMG, the balance of convenience was strongly in favour of the parties having the opportunity to resolve the dispute through external mediation in accordance with the contractual procedure. The ballot in favour of strike action was valid for six months. The CWU still had the opportunity to call its members out on strike if external mediation turned out to be unsuccessful (see ,  of the judgment).
Andrew Burns QC and Alice Carse (instructed by DAC Beachcroft) for the RMG.
John Hendy QC and Sarah Keogh (instructed by Penningtons Manches LLP) for the CWU.
Rasheed Sarpong, Solicitor.