THE UK government came under attack yesterday for releasing details of the Royal Mail share offer just as more than 100,000 postal workers started voting on whether to strike in protest at the sell-off.
Unions and the Labour Party criticised the UK coalition for pressing ahead with the sale despite “consistent opposition” from the public and warnings of job losses and reduced services.
The government said the business would be valued at up to £3.3 billion when privatised next month. Shares are expected to be priced at 260p-330p, giving a market valuation in the range of £2.6bn and £3.3bn.
Unconditional dealings in the stock will start on 15 October, the day before voting closes in a ballot by the Communication Workers Union (CWU) on strike action. If there is a yes vote, strikes could start a week later.
About 150,000 eligible staff will be handed 10 per cent of shares in the largest free stock offer of any privatisation in the UK over the past 30 years, equivalent to around £2,000 each at the mid-point of the offer price range.
A union communication being sent to CWU members yesterday said: “Those who want to sell off the Royal Mail Group are motivated purely by short-term gain and vested interests.
“We cannot give the company a free hand to determine your future and the future of UK postal services.” A vote at this week’s Labour Party conference opposed the sell-off and called on an incoming Labour government to renationalise a privatised Royal Mail.
Billy Hayes, CWU general secretary, said: “The government continues to press ahead with the sale despite consistent opposition from the public.
“It seems remarkable that the prospectus is being issued on the same day that postal workers are being sent ballot papers for strike action.”
Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite, said: “Customers know and businesses know that this rushed sale is likely to lead to higher prices and could spell the death knell of the universal service which so many rural communities rely on.”
Unite represents Royal Mail managers.
Shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna said: “Royal Mail is a cherished institution. But out-of-touch ministers are putting all that at risk just so they can raise a quick buck to fill the hole left in the public finances by Chancellor George Osborne’s failed economic plan.”
In yesterday’s offer launch document, it emerged that the government is expected to retain a stake in Royal Mail of between 30-49.9 per cent.
Individuals can apply for shares, with the deadline for applications being 8 October. Further pricing details and share allocations will be confirmed when conditional dealings in Royal Mail start on 11 October.