Striking postal workers in Northern Ireland were meeting today to decide on an offer from Royal Mail and whether to call off their two-week wildcat action.
Late last night, management pledged to use independent conciliators to improve future relationships between them and the union at all levels.
But staff involved in the strike in Belfast must agree to return to work immediately and pledge not to hold any further industrial action for 12 months.
The offer followed day-long talks in London between Royal Mail bosses and national representatives of the Communication Workers’ Union aimed at halting a strike which has thrown postal delivery services into chaos.
After revealing details of the new attempt to break the deadlock, Gary Crawford, director of personnel for Royal Mail Northern Ireland, said: “The union has asked for the involvement of a third party.
“This is also the approach Royal Mail wants to see.
“We can now see no reason other than a hidden agenda for the union to remain on strike.
“We therefore expect the CWU to get people back to work and to resume services to our customers.”
With a key demand of strikers being an independent review of disciplinary procedures, management were cautiously optimistic that official action may finally be ended.
The strike began on January 31 over staff allegations of management harassment and has halted deliveries of post in north, south and west Belfast, stopped all mail being sent to Britain and forced Royal Mail to stop accepting special delivery items.
The Federation of Small Businesses has warned that the economy is being disrupted and its members hit hard.
FSB branch chairman Harry McGimpsey said: “This strike is bringing small business owners to their knees, not just in Belfast, but right across Northern Ireland.
“Many of ur members are unable to receive cheques and other important mail which has resulted in their cash flow being reduced by 95% in some cases.”
Some businessmen have resorted to flying to England to post out orders to customers in other parts of the UK and Europe, said the FSB.
Hospitals have also reported patients missing treatment because appointment notification has not been delivered to them.