Royal Mail has accused trade union officials of “consciously and deliberately” interfering with a ballot of postal workers over potential strikes.
The company is bringing a High Court action against the Communication Workers Union (CWU) in a bid to block threatened action after members voted to back walkouts by 97 per cent on a turnout of 76 per cent.
The union, which has not set a date for strikes, denies the allegations and is contesting the case.
Royal Mail claims the union orchestrated a “de facto workplace ballot”, contrary to rules on industrial action, to maximise the turnout and the “yes” vote.
The company’s lawyers told a hearing in London on Tuesday that evidence collected from around the UK suggests the union encouraged members to intercept their ballot papers at work, vote immediately, then share images of themselves returning the papers using the nearest post box on social media.
Bruce Carr QC, for Royal Mail, told the court: “What the defendant has done is consciously and deliberately interfered in the balloting process in order to achieve maximum turnout and a maximum ‘yes’ vote.
“In its desire to maximise voter turnout and a substantial ‘yes’ vote for strike action, the (CWU) has ridden roughshod over the requirement for a secret ballot based on the delivery of voting papers to the home addresses of its members.
“From the evidence which the claimant has obtained to date, there is a strong inference that senior officials within the defendant devised and implemented a plan designed to create a de facto workplace ballot – with members being directed to intercept ballot papers at work, vote collectively and then post the results of the exercise on social media outlets.
“The evidence of this widespread malpractice gathered to date is drawn from all corners of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and may well represent the tip of the iceberg.”
Mr Carr told Mr Justice Swift, who is hearing the case, that he is “entitled” to take into account the “wider public interest”.
He added: “A strike as threatened by the defendant appears designed to cause maximum pain to the public, both in relation to ‘Cyber Week’ and the Christmas period, but also to disrupt the General Election on December 12.”
CWU lawyers argue there is no evidence of interference with the ballot and that “legitimate partisan campaigning” by the union in favour of a “yes” vote did not violate the rules.
Referring to one film of members posting their ballot papers, Lord Hendy QC, representing the union, said: “Hundreds of members are shown with sealed ballot envelopes and, regardless of what they claimed, no-one could know in which box they had placed their X.
“They had voted secretly, so far as the evidence shows.
“There is nothing objectionable about photographing or filming members placing their sealed envelopes in a post box.”
The CWU balloted members over strike action amid a dispute between workers and management over job security and employment terms.
The union previously said the result of the ballot, which was open between September 24 and October 15, represented the largest “yes vote” for national industrial action since the passing of the Trade Union Act 2016.
Mr Justice Swift said he hopes to give his ruling on Wednesday.