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Cork Mail Centre: Motion [Private Members] (Continued)

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 984 No. 6

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Paul Murphy: Information on Paul Murphy Zoom on Paul Murphy] There is opportunity here to point in a different direction and go upwards instead of downwards. Instead of featuring workers with bogus self-employment, this crucial part of capitalist production and sale would feature workers with decent wages, conditions, and high levels of unionisation. Instead of selling the Cork mail centre and getting rid of these jobs, An Post could take a different approach and redefine itself primarily as a parcel delivery company which also handles letters. It would then become part of a model of public ownership based on democratic control by its workers, bringing them and service users to the centre of decision-making and in that way putting a plan in place for further development. Instead of asset-stripping, let us have investment and instead of redundancies, let us have quality new jobs for young people.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett On behalf of People Before Profit, I commend Deputy Barry and Solidarity on tabling this motion. I pledge our complete support for the campaign of workers in the Cork mail centre to fight against the disgraceful decision to close the centre and eliminate these jobs. The Minister should bear in mind that An Post does not have a good record on making strategic decisions about its own future. It closed its special delivery service, SDS, which was a parcel delivery service, in 2003 when the boom in parcel delivery was about to start. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy in that the management of An Post is almost wishing for its decline and making that prophecy come true with these sorts of decisions. The management has a history of this. It completely misunderstood what was happening and a boom in parcel delivery ensued after it made a decision to abandon An Post's special parcel delivery wing. It cannot be trusted to make these strategic decisions and has made a big mistake here.

How many times have we heard both the Government and Fianna Fáil refer to dramatic plans for population expansion in Cork? They even talk of the population doubling. Why are we taking away a crucial hub and piece of infrastructure when the population of Cork is set to double? The planned roll-out of rural broadband will increase parcel delivery as people buy online and so on. That would be facilitated by this centre in Cork, yet we are closing it down. At a time when we are discussing climate action, we are planning for these parcels to chug their way up the road to Athlone, Portlaoise or Dublin, pumping CO2 emissions into the air. It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

This is a consequence of moving away from understanding that An Post, like many other State-owned companies, is part of a vital infrastructure that should not be based on narrow short-term commercial considerations, but should be about maintaining a critical infrastructure for both the country and the Cork region. That slide towards deregulation and privatisation ends with stupid decisions that impact on workers and the infrastructure and services available to people, in this case people in Cork. It is worth noting that this is also part of the push towards deregulation of services of general economic interest by the European Union. The process of commercialisation and backdoor privatisation leads to the undermining of key public services. This comes on the back of a terrible history of closure of rural post offices and the damage that is doing to rural Ireland, all because of commercial considerations. A vital public service having to run on narrow, short-term, purely commercial considerations leads to the destruction of rural infrastructure and services, with devastating consequences for rural Ireland. The Government should not allow this to happen. It should ensure those jobs are saved and this hub and service are maintained for the expansion of parcel services in the Cork region.

Deputy Gino Kenny: Information on Gino Kenny Zoom on Gino Kenny I commend this motion and fully support it. I would like to show Solidarity's support to over 300 An Post workers who are facing job losses. Our solidarity and support go out to them today. This closure will have a detrimental effect on them, their immediate families and the economy. Commercially, this decision does not make sense, as the commercial figures show that An Post is in good shape. The company reported revenues of €900 million last year, which is an increase of 7% from 2017. Stamp and meter receipts are also up 20%. The use of stamps and parcels is very productive for An Post, so this does not make commercial or strategic sense. As other Deputies have stated, this closure is a reflection of An Post's shift from a State company to a semi-State company and then to a commercial entity. That was borne out in the closure of post offices in rural areas, which has had a hugely detrimental effect on many villages. Responsibility for this lies squarely with the management of An Post, not the workers who have served the centre in Cork very well for the past 16 years. We are calling for An Post to reverse this decision because of the detrimental effect it will have on the workers.

Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment (Deputy Richard Bruton): Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton I move amendment No. 3:

To delete all words after “Dáil Éireann” and substitute the following:
“recognises that:
— An Post is a commercial State company with its own Board and a mandate to deliver a postal delivery service, and a viable post office and mails centre network;

— staff in the Cork mail centre have delivered a consistently high level of performance over the years and have given great service to An Post;

— the impact of email and other forms of online communication on mail volumes have presented significant challenges to the existing postal business model, with the Cork mail centre operating at 25 per cent capacity and, in response, the An Post Board has put in place a strategic plan to transform the company in both the mails and retail business;

— An Post needs to reduce its letter processing capacity in line with global industry trends, and switch investment into its eCommerce/parcels network to ensure the future sustainability of the company;

— the closure of a mail centre was considered by the Labour Court in its recommendation of September 2017, which provides that 50 per cent of the savings arising from the closure of a mails processing centre will contribute towards pay awards in An Post; and

— continued transformation of the postal business will be difficult but the new changes will allow An Post to continue to be financially sustainable and in a position to avail of opportunities in the digital/eCommerce environment;
notes that:
— An Post has committed that all staff will be offered strong exit packages, redeployment opportunities within An Post’s delivery and post office networks in the Cork area, further education grants and support in securing jobs with new employers;

— An Post is engaged with the Communications Workers’ Union (CWU) to ensure the best possible outcome for affected staff and has indicated that it will continue to work with the CWU in addressing all issues that may arise;

— An Post plans to invest over €15 million in parcels infrastructure across Cork City and the wider region over the next three years and that a major parcel delivery centre for Cork will open by 2022;

— An Post employs over 9,000 staff, continues to have a strong regional focus and will still employ almost 1,000 people in the Cork area;

— the Government has taken significant action to ensure the future viability of An Post and secure the future of the company, and these actions have resulted in a restructuring of the company, expansion of services in the post office network and have protected thousands of jobs in the postal sector across the country;

— a Government investment of €30 million was secured for An Post in order to safeguard the five days a week mail delivery service (€15 million) and to protect post office counter services (€15 million); and

— the Government continues to provide significant business to An Post through the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection social welfare contract and National Treasury Management Agency business; and
commits the Government to:
— ensure that all relevant State supports will be made available to the workers impacted by this announcement; and

— monitor the An Post commitments to invest in the Cork area and the ongoing delivery of its strategic plan.”

I thank the Deputies for raising this issue. I understand that it is a matter of significant concern for local workers and there is no doubt that those workers have provided a great service. This is not a reflection on the quality of work or the dedication they have shown over a number of years.

  The sad fact that lies behind this decision is the substantial decline in the use of traditional mail. As the Deputies will appreciate, the volume of mail has halved in the past ten years and that decline is projected to continue. As Deputies will recall, this led to a very serious financial situation for An Post just two years ago when we had to introduce special legislation in this House to increase the cost of stamps. We also had to invest €30 million to support An Post and ensure elements of its public service commitment, such as the five-day service and post office counter services, continued. The market in which An Post is trading is changing rapidly and it had to respond by developing a restructuring programme. We are now seeing early signs of that programme's success.

  The Deputies are correct that although parcel delivery services were exploding, An Post experienced a decline in its market share. One of the strategic decisions it has taken has been to radically change that and grow its parcel business.

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