A claimed below-inflation pay offer and a major shake-up of pensions and working conditions could see up to 125,000 Royal Mail staff strike from 10 October. Other strikes may follow in the Christmas run-up.

The Coalition claims that strikes will not deter the planned Royal Mail sell-off that could rake in £3bn for the Treasury. What are Royal Mail staff objecting to, precisely?

Pay and conditions trouble

The CWU has rejected a 8.6% pay increase broken down over the next three years, plus an offer of bonuses and 10% of total shares once Royal Mail is sold. "We are dealing with a company that is preparing for privatisation with relish," says Dave Ward, deputy general secretary for the The Communications Union (CWU).

The Government is hopeful it can get the privatisation process out of the way by the end of the year. The union is not opposing Royal Mail privatisation outright - it would be illegal - but job security and changes to working conditions.

Looking at changes to postal service privatisation on the Continent and you might feel underwhelmed: business customers have a bigger choice of providers, especially for bulk mail. But private consumers have seen prices rise steadily (so much for competition) and are the recipients of a rather more fractured service. Universal six-day-a-week deliveries look unlikely to remain in the UK, long term.

New foreign owner?

The relentless contracting-out of the private sector will almost certainly see more postal workers on zero hours contracts while the directors, helped along by share options, will likely do nicely. Eventually, perhaps, the Royal Mail could be then sold to a new foreign owner.

The Royal Mail's pension liabilities however have been transferred to the taxpayer. But it's competing against the super-efficient Germans with Deutsche Post, now the new owner of DHL, not to mention the Americans with FedEx; other carriers like Yodel are not making things easier for Royal Mail.

Having said that, Royal Mail saw profits recover recently to £324m (last year).

If you're worried about Christmas deliveries, you have some choice: players like Collect Plus, City Link, iPost Parcels and parcel2go.com offer a wide range of services, including free collection and loss/damage cover, in some cases. There are also next-day delivery options on most services.