Around 112,000 CWU members will receive ballot papers asking them four questions (see below), one of which asks: “Do you support the boycott of competitors’ mail”.

While the ballot is primarily targeted at strengthening CWU’s hand in negotiations with Royal Mail on pay, privatisation and working conditions – a strong yes vote on the question of boycotting DSA mail would give the union the mandate to introduce a boycott.

“This ballot is about protecting the interests of our members and the future of the UK postal service. It is time to challenge Royal Mail and send a strong message to the government and regulator. The consultative ballot deals with the complex issues facing our members and the postal industry. We’re asking postal workers to support the union or allow Royal Mail a free hand to determine their future – there is no fence to sit on,” said CWU deputy general secretary Dave Ward.

The ballot will run until 18 June, with the result expected the following day. The union stressed that the vote is not a ballot for industrial action.

The union claims that Royal and regulator Ofcom have no policy to deal with DSA competition and it fears that when TNT rolls out its own delivery network nationally, profits from DSA will be “wiped out”. It also said that “Unfair competition has undermined the universal service obligation and the jobs of our members” and it hoped that a boycott will force the government and Ofcom intervene on the issue.

According to a CWU spokeswoman, the union would rather not take strike action. However, she added that a “strong yes vote” on the boycott would give it enough of a mandate to introduce it and, as the boycott would not be legally classed as industrial action, there was no requirement to give the mandatory seven days notice to Royal Mail.

“Anecdotally, at a lot of the conferences and forums we’ve had in the past four or five months there has been a lot of support for a boycott, but as there would be so many people involved in it, 112,000, we really would like to them to be able to have their say,” she said.

“We won’t be holding a separate industrial action ballot, as this is something different.”

However, the union is entering uncharted territory by deeming the boycott as exempt from industrial relations legislation because it’s unclear whether the boycott could mean that CWU members are in effect breaking their contracts of employment.

“It’s never been done before, so it’s very much a bridge to be crossed, so we’re going to have to see how things pan out,” said the spokeswoman.

“If we don’t have to take the action, then we won’t just take it bloody minded. The whole reason we’re staging the ballot is to flag up what we see as unfair competition. If we can get that resolved [with regulator Ofcom] without having to take this action, then of course we will do that. But we haven’t seen any movement on that in the past year,” said the spokeswoman.

In March, Ofcom set out its measures to protect the universal postal service. However, the measure only applied to competitors providing an end-to-end service, not DSA operators.

CWU ballot questions

  • Do you support the CWU Pay claim?
  • Do you oppose the privatisation of Royal Mail?
  • Do you support the boycott of competitors’ mail?
  • Do you support the policy of non-cooperation?