During the pandemic, the post has consistently shown its value as an essential service, not least by ensuring the delivering of letters and parcels every day to each address. In many countries, the post also provided vital social and community services, including medicine deliveries and support for vulnerable people. It has proven its importance and worth to the general public and raised its value for society.
Despite the emergency created by the pandemic, postal operators are still attempting to benefit from the current situation and to generate more profit by reducing services. They are using the reality of the temporary drop in letter volume to start attacking the universal service obligation (USO). The USO regulates the right of citizens to receive and send mail nationwide on a daily basis at affordable prices. It’s a guaranteed means of communication in times of crisis.
On the day before Postal Workers’ Day in the UK, Royal Mail announced without any consultation that they would be reducing the USO to five days until the end of the summer. The Communications Workers Union (CWU) responded quickly through effective communication with the members, to the company, public and wider media as well as to the government on the same day. The union used the Postal Workers’ Day to create political leverage. The combination of all these activities put immense pressure on the company.
The day after Postal Workers’ Day, the company contacted the union and agreed to significantly change their position. This was a major victory for the union and subsequently on the 15th of May the company made an announcement that the CEO would be stepping down.
“In hindsight, it is clear that the company regrets making the move, which was clearly an attempt to take advantage of the Coronavirus pandemic in the wrong way. We are now engaged in talks with the company to resolve our national dispute and hopefully develop a joint future strategy. The union acknowledges that the pandemic has probably accelerated the trends in volumes that we have been aware of for some time, but we also believe there is now an opportunity to look at solutions to this in a more measured and hopefully mutually beneficial way.” said Dave Ward, General Secretary of the CWU.
At the end of May, the Finnish postal operator Posti, announced their plans to reduce the USO over the summer to four days with temporary layoffs of approximately 8.000 workers. The company stated that the pandemic had hit hard the demand for traditional postal services. The volume of letter mail decreased by as much as 20% in April.
The Finnish Post and Logistics Union PAU is gearing up to the upcoming struggle to fight for keeping the Friday delivery. The last-mile delivery in post is the most labour intensive part of the operation. Almost 50% of all postal workers are occupied in this part of the industry. Therefore, it is an easy calculation to start reducing the days of delivery to save money and make more profit.
“As a union we are against reducing delivery days, and we do see that these changes will most likely be permanent due to the great and possibly permanent decrease in mail volumes during this ongoing pandemic. Our main focus is to influence the development of postal services in a way that ensures full-time employment with decent wages for as long as possible,” said Ida Nummelin, Work environment expert in The Finnish Post and Logistics Union, PAU.
“These are only two examples of attacks, motivated by the quest for profit, on our postal services but we expect more” says Cornelia Berger, Head of UNI Post & Logistics, “Postal workers providing postal services are essential for the population and for keeping the economy going. The USO is the core of our service and we should think about expanding it and including other essential services instead of reducing it. Our society needs more reliable social and community services which can be provided through our postal network. The short-sighted reduction of the USO is clearly due to profit greed. UNI Post & Logistics will fight against reductions to the USO and for future strong and diverse postal services for all citizens.”
UNI Post & Logistics has consistently raised the importance of a strong universal service obligation globally and on European level with our current #SaveOurPost campaign.
“This is as much a question of maintaining good jobs rooted in communities as it is about a commitment to universalism, that is to say one and the same service for all. This is the most just and in many cases the most efficient measure too. In the case of the postal service, why dissect a service that is in many cases over a century old into a multiplicity of providers clogging up our roads?” said Oliver Roethig, Regional Secretary of UNI Europa.
“How do we see our societies: as a series of sectioned off competitions to provide an excess of services for those at the top and increasingly limited services for the rest? Or are they places of community-building and mutual enrichment? In our societies people are feeling increasingly isolated, governments ought to reinforce what we have in common, not buy into the disproven approach of austerity cuts. This is what our struggle for the universal service obligation is about,” said Oliver Roethig.
“At European level, the EU Commission is pursuing the revision of the Postal Services Directive and we fear that the trend is towards a re-definition of the USO downwards. We must reassert the essential role post plays at national level and defend the USO through an expansive outlook. The pandemic has proven that e-Commerce parcels are a necessity and as such they must be included wholly in the USO definitions. The message to the Commission at this stage is not to use the pandemic as an excuse to cut costs and dismantle the service. The ‘new normal’ cannot be more deregulation and deterioration of working conditions.” Said Dimitris Theodorakis, Director UNI Europa Post & Logistics.
UNI Post & Logistics will continue gathering the lessons learnt from COVID-19 and preparing its members for the period after. It will be an important aspect of our policy on what we have learned from COVID19 and how to prepare post for crisis.