LONDON: The ongoing dispute between UK postal workers and their employer, Royal Mail, sees the start of a 48-hour strike today (Thursday) and a further stoppage planned for Monday.

The action, by members of the Communication Workers Union, is over the postal service's 2.5% pay increase offer and its modernisation plans, which workers fear will put 40,000 jobs at risk.

Royal Mail says change is vital to the survival of the business, which lost its 350 year monopoly last year and has suffered a dent in profits from the growth of email, text messages and the purchase of vehicle tax discs and television licences online.

Last-minute talks to break the deadlock and avert the strikes have been going on, but if they fail millions of business and domestic customers face prolonged disruption to services.

Millie Banerjee, from consumer watchdog Postwatch, said "effectively these strikes mean that mail posted in the UK today is unlikely to be delivered before Thursday next week".

She adds: "It is hugely disappointing to watch a great British institution tear itself apart."

Data sourced from BBC Online; additional content by WARC staff