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Royal Mail and Communication Workers Union reach agreement on pay and employment terms | UK News

Royal Mail and the Communication Workers Union (CWU) have reached an agreement in principle following a long-running dispute over pay and employment terms.

In a joint statement with Royal Mail, CWU confirmed the agreement will now be considered by the executive of the union before it goes before the membership.

The details of the proposed agreement will be made public once it has been ratified by the union’s executive committee – expected to take place next week.

In a further statement, the CWU said: “We have reached a negotiators agreement with Royal Mail Group.

“The CWU Postal Executive will now meet and consider the agreement on Monday and Tuesday and we are putting in place plans to brief representatives across the union’s structures.

“On the basis that the negotiators agreement is endorsed by the Postal Executive, we will put in place a full communications plan to engage members. Thank you for your support and patience. It has got us to this point.”

11 months of negotiations

The two sides have been locked in bitter negotiations for 11 months over pay, jobs, and conditions for the 112,000-strong workforce.

There were 18 strike dates called last year and 2023 has seen the union and Royal Mail attempt to make progress at conciliation service Acas, with former TUC general secretary Sir Brendan Barber also joining the effort to deliver peace this month.

Read more:
Royal Mail referred to regulator over ‘systemic letter delivery failures’
Royal Mail apologises for ‘misjudged’ April Fools’ joke promising staff pay rises

The CWU secured a fresh mandate for industrial action in mid-February and would have to give seven days’ notice of any fresh walkouts.

The union had described the company’s self-dubbed modernisation plans as an “Uberisation”, declaring that it would turn Royal Mail into a gig economy-style employer.

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February: Royal Mail admits prioritising parcels

How much strikes have cost Royal Mail

Royal Mail’s parent firm has raised its estimate for the cost of industrial action so far to £200m and claimed that up to 12,500 union members have worked on strike days.

International Distributions Services (IDS) said 18 days of walkouts helped push the division to a £295m operating loss in the first nine months of its financial year to the end of December.

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It reported that revenue at Royal Mail was down almost 13% on the same period in 2021, with a decline in letter volumes and COVID testing kits also contributing.

Joe Biden set to arrive in Northern Ireland to mark 25 years of the Good Friday Agreement | UK News

US President Joe Biden says his trip to the island of Ireland will underscore the United States’ commitment to peace and prosperity.  

He is due to arrive in Belfast later, where he’ll be met by the UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

The pair will hold a bilateral meeting on Wednesday, after which President Biden will deliver remarks commemorating the Good Friday Agreement at Ulster University.

The US president is also expected to meet representatives from all five of Northern Ireland’s main political parties.

Ahead of his trip, he tweeted: “25 years ago, Northern Ireland’s leaders chose peace.

“The Belfast/Good Friday Agreement ended decades of violence and brought stability.

“I look forward to marking the anniversary in Belfast, underscoring the US commitment to preserving peace and encouraging prosperity.”

The president will arrive in Northern Ireland the day after petrol bombs were thrown at a police vehicle in Londonderry during an Easter parade.

Addressing the issue of violence, White House spokesman John Kirby told a press briefing: “As for security concerns, you know we don’t ever talk about security requirements of protecting the president but the president is more than comfortable making this trip and he’s very excited to do it.”

Following Wednesday’s scheduled events in Belfast, President Biden will travel south to Ireland, where he’ll hold meetings with the Irish President Michael Higgins and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

He’s due to address a joint session of the Irish parliament and will attend a banquet dinner in Dublin Castle.

The president’s attendance at events to mark the anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement reflects the US’ influence in helping to underpin peace in Northern Ireland.

In Washington DC, he is recognised as a politician who worked towards a breakthrough long before it came 25 years ago.

Read more:
Good Friday Agreement 25 years on – how it led to peace, hope and paralysis

Stella O’Leary, chair of the Irish-American lobby group, was appointed by President Biden in 2022 to be US observer to the International Fund for Ireland. It has been used over decades to help promote peace and co-existence in Northern Ireland.

Ms O’Leary told Sky News: “The United States has given half a billion dollars to that fund to maintain the peace. It was in existence from 1986 and it formed the foundation of the peace agreement. So it’s been a long time and Joe Biden was in there from the start.

“He facilitated the funding of the International Fund, with many others – it was a bipartisan effort.

“Ireland has a great debt to America for the role it’s played and he is a representative of that commitment.”

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Police vehicle attacked on Good Friday Agreement anniversary

Mr Biden’s four-day trip will be a combination of formal and family. A descendant of Irish immigrants to the United States, he will visit County Louth and County Mayo, from where his ancestors left for America in the 19th century.

He will deliver remarks at St. Muredach’s Cathedral in Ballina, County Mayo, to which his great-great-great-grandfather Edward Blewitt sold 27,000 bricks in 1827. The bricks were used to build the cathedral and their sale helped to fund Edward’s passage to the US with his family in 1851.

In Scranton, Pennsylvania, where his ancestors settled and where he spent the first 10 years of his life, the Irish-American community celebrates the achievements of one of their own.

Nearly a quarter of the city’s population have Irish blood. They include members of the Joyce School of Irish Dance, where we gauged the view on the local boy on the big stage.

Brigid King, 20, told Sky News: “It’s a very cool thing. I was raised very proud to be Irish, it was always a big thing in my family. So to have somebody in power who is Irish, very proud of where he came from, even though not being born in Ireland, is a very cool thing. He’s someone that shares the same passion as I do.”

Tottenham manager Antonio Conte leaves club by ‘mutual agreement’ | UK News

Tottenham head coach Antonio Conte has left the club by “mutual agreement”, the London side have said in a statement.

A decision was made after the Italian launched into an extraordinary post-match rant after his team’s 3-3 draw at Southampton last Saturday.

The 53-year-old, who had seen his side exit the FA Cup and Champions League in quick succession, watched his players concede twice in the final 13 minutes on the south coast to lose ground in their fight to stay in the top four.

After a fifth away match without a victory, Conte unleashed a furious tirade against his own “selfish players” and shut down uncertainty over his future as “excuses” for a squad who have failed to end the club’s trophy drought that dates back to 2008.

The Italian’s contract was set to expire in the summer and he had remained coy over the prospect of extending his stay in London all season, but fourth-placed Spurs have now cut their losses with the former Chelsea, Inter Milan and Juventus boss after 16 months in charge.

Cristian Stellini, previously Conte’s assistant, will take charge of Tottenham’s final 10 matches of the season.

“We can announce that head coach Antonio Conte has left the club by mutual agreement,” a club statement read.

“We achieved Champions League qualification in Antonio’s first season at the club. We thank Antonio for his contribution and wish him well for the future.

“Cristian Stellini will take the team as acting head coach for the remainder of the season, along with Ryan Mason as assistant head coach.”

Spurs chairman Daniel Levy added: “We have 10 Premier League games remaining and we have a fight on our hands for a Champions League place. We all need to pull together. Everyone has to step up to ensure the highest possible finish for our club and amazing, loyal supporters.”

Conte, who won the Premier League with Chelsea in 2017 and won Italy’s top flight four times, once with Inter Milan and three times with Juventus, was unable to end Tottenham’s 15-year wait for a trophy.

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The north London club, who last won silverware when they lifted the league cup in 2008, qualified for the Champions League in Conte’s first season and are currently fourth in the table – meaning they will qualify again if they finish in their current position or higher.

However, the side are out of all cup competitions this season, so have no realistic chance of winning silverware.

Sunak to push for returns agreement with France in bid to stop small boats | Politics News

Rishi Sunak will use talks with President Emmanuel Macron to push for a returns agreement allowing migrants to be sent back to France after crossing the English Channel.

The prime minister is set to meet the French president in Paris on Friday where he will prioritise discussing his “stop the boats” plan.

Downing Street wants a bilateral agreement that would allow the UK to immediately return people arriving illegally in southern England to France.

The meeting is unlikely to lead to a breakthrough on such an accord, with British ministers and diplomats instead privately aiming to cajole Mr Macron’s administration into being a driving force behind an EU-wide returns agreement with London.

Labour said Mr Sunak will have “failed” if he comes back to the UK without a deal.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: “We need a new agreement with France.

“Rishi Sunak will have failed if he comes back from the summit without a new returns agreement and new joint arrangements to prevent dangerous boat crossings.”

The talks between the leaders come days after Mr Sunak and Home Secretary Suella Braverman, who will also meet with her counterpart in the French capital on Friday, unveiled the controversial Illegal Migration Bill.

The legislation announced on Tuesday would see asylum seekers who arrive through unauthorised means detained, deported and hit with a lifetime ban from returning.

Charities, the EU and human rights groups have argued the proposals aren’t legal while questions have also swirled about how they will work in practice.

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UN: ‘A sad day for refugee rights’

Under the UN Refugee Convention, people escaping war or persecution cannot be forced to return there.

The government also can’t return people or send them to a ‘third’ country – like Rwanda – unless they have agreed to take them.

Downing Street stressed that the gathering at the Elysee Palace “isn’t a summit on a single issue”, with energy security, the conflict in Ukraine and the “challenge posed by China” likely to be touched upon.

But the prime minister’s official spokesman confirmed Mr Sunak will look to raise his ambitions of working more closely on the issue of Channel crossings.

During a visit to Dover earlier this week he told reporters: “Certainly we are going in there with an ambition to go further on stopping the boats making these dangerous crossings.”

And in a briefing on Wednesday before the talks, he added: “I think these are important discussions that should deepen our work with our French counterparts on stopping the boats.

“It will build on the expansion we already saw the prime minister announce in his first few weeks [in office].

“We want a EU-UK returns agreement and will push that forward.”

PM ‘could green-light new deal’ on patrols

There is already a multimillion-pound agreement in place with France designed to help prevent crossings and target human trafficking gangs.

A revised deal announced in November was worth around £63 million, representing a hike of about £8m from a similar pledge signed in 2021.

Under the commitment, the number of French officers patrolling beaches on the country’s northern coastline rose from 200 to 300, while British officers for the first time were also permitted to be stationed in French control rooms and on the approaches to beaches to observe operations.

Nearly 3,000 people have arrived via small boats in the UK already this year but it is understood that France has successfully prevented around the same number from embarking on the journey.

Reports suggest that Mr Sunak is ready to green-light a deal that would secure a multi-year migration agreement with Paris which would include Britain paying millions of pounds to France every year for extra officers on the lookout on French beaches.

Rishi Sunak
Rishi Sunak has staked his premiership on reducing Channel crossings

But French sources told The Independent Mr Macron is likely to reject calls for a returns agreement, after the UK disregarded his call to establish more safe and legal routes.

While the government has schemes in place for a limited number of Afghans, Ukrainians and people from Hong Kong, critics point out there is no legal route for asylum seekers from many other dangerous parts of the world.

Sylvie Bermann, a former French Ambassador to the UK, damped down the prospect of a returns agreement, telling Sky News: “We have twice as many asylum seekers than the UK so we take our part, I don’t think we’d be ready to take those people back.

“We are doing our best to prevent them crossing the Channel but I am not sure we will take them back.”

Read more:
EU warns immigration bill violates international law
Do refugees have a ‘safe and legal’ route to the UK?

‘Beautiful renewed friendship’

The summit – a once regular event in the political calendar that has been revived by Mr Sunak after a five-year hiatus – is being viewed as a thawing in cross-Channel relations.

Tensions festered between London and Paris during Boris Johnson’s premiership, with Brexit causing frictions and sparking disputes over fishing grounds and trade.

During Liz Truss’s brief time as prime minister, she said the “jury is out” on whether Mr Macron was Britain’s friend.

But Mr Macron has been seen to be on more cordial terms with Mr Sunak than the prime minister’s predecessors, with Paris sources reportedly briefing that the summit should be seen as the “beginning of a beautiful renewed friendship”.

The PM is set to be joined in France by members of his cabinet, with Foreign Secretary James Cleverly and Defence Secretary Ben Wallace also travelling, along with Ms Braverman.

UK and France clinch new agreement on migrants as Suella Braverman travels to Paris | UK News

Home Secretary Suella Braverman will travel to Paris to sign a new joint declaration with French officials to ramp up efforts to stop migrant crossings in the Channel.

The home secretary will sign the agreement with French interior minister Gerald Darmanin on Monday morning.

According to the Financial Times, the agreement will significantly increase the 200 French officers and volunteers who operate on Channel beaches and encourage France to aim for a higher proportion of migrants prevented from leaving.

It will also include a rise in payments from London to Paris and a closer relationship between the two countries’ border policing teams, the newspaper reported.

Read more: Traffickers turn to new and more dangerous ways to smuggle people across the Channel

Migrants use new taxi boat service in Calais in attempts to cross the Channel

The UK and France have been in talks for several months over the renewal of longstanding arrangements to police the Channel.

The Financial Times reports that the annual amount the UK pays to France is expected to increase to €72m (£63m) in 2022 to 2023, from €62.7m (£54.8m) for 2021 to 2022.

The UK government has sent a total of €200m (£174.8m) to Paris to police the border since 2018, while France spends around €250m (£218.6m) every year dealing with all matters related to the British border.

French officials said the number of officers patrolling to stop small boat crossings will increase from 200 to 300 by mid-2023 under the new agreement, the newspaper reported, with the UK covering additional monitoring costs.

It added that the deal also plans for a French operations centre to be reinforced, while British border force officers will be present as observers for the first time, all while respecting France’s sovereignty.

On Friday, Foreign Secretary James Cleverly and his French counterpart Catherine Colonna issued a statement stressing the “urgency of tackling all forms of illegal migration”.

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Migrants seen getting on dinghy in Calais

40,000 cross into UK

So far this year, around 40,000 people have crossed the Channel in small boats, up from 28,526 last year, putting pressure on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

A total of 972 people made the crossing in 22 boats on Saturday, bringing the total to have made the journey so far in 2022 to 40,885.

Border Force officials were seen bringing groups of people to shore at Dover on Saturday, marking the first arrivals this month following a spell of bad weather.

The past few years have seen a sharp increase in the number of people reaching the UK in small boats from France.

Some 299 were detected in 2018, followed by 1,843 in 2019 and 8,466 in 2020, official figures show.

Meanwhile, Italy, Greece, Cyprus and Malta have complained they were forced to bear the brunt of migrants crossing the Mediterranean and called for changes in European Union policy.

The four southern European states said in a joint statement that responsibility should be shared more widely across the bloc when it comes to sheltering people rescued by charity boats.

A young child is carried from a Border Force vessel after arriving in Dover, Kent
A young child is carried from a Border Force vessel after arriving in Dover, Kent

Thousands to be vaccinated at Manston migrant centre

In the UK, health authorities have said thousands of migrants passing through the Manston processing centre will be vaccinated against diphtheria after dozens of cases of the highly contagious disease were confirmed in England.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said it is working with the Home Office to vaccinate migrants at the centre after it was revealed on Friday that 39 diphtheria cases had been identified in asylum seekers in England in 2022 as of 10 November.

The UKHSA warned accommodation settings should be considered “high-risk for infectious diseases”.

The agency said in many cases the illness had been contracted abroad and carried to the UK and it stressed the need for action to “minimise the risk of further transmission”.