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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 Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath] Can An Post or the anchor tenant, whichever is responsible, break the rules at will? Can a semi-State body override the rules of the county council and everybody else? It is disgraceful carry-on.

Deputy Bríd Smith: Information on Bríd Smith Zoom on Bríd Smith We have been debating An Post and its dilemma for some time in these Chambers, usually in the context of small rural post offices closing. I remember a time when there was a big row in this House about which Minister was responsible, whether it was the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, the Minister for Rural and Community Development or the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. It is like a football that has been kicked around from Department to Department without anyone ever really getting a hold on what was happening. This has been happening for a long time.

The main argument has been that the financial position of the company was on a knife-edge and that it needed to cut jobs. It instigated pay freezes at one stage and it was argued that the closure of rural post offices was essential. This seems to be hinted at as the justification of the closure of Little Island with the loss of 240 jobs. When one looks at the facts, one sees that since the Labour Court recommendation in 2017, the company recently announced that a revenue of €897 million in 2018, an increase of 7% on the previous year. During the last Christmas period, we saw a substantial increase in mail volume, with parcel volumes increasing by 50% from the previous year, with 100,000 postal deliveries a day and record sales of postage stamps. We see continued growth in parcel and e-deliveries. I think that a Sinn Féin Deputy mentioned that in a city which is meant to double its population over the coming period, this seems like a crazy planning decision which the Minister should look at again. It certainly is not climate-proofed. As has been said by several Deputies, the distances that trucks etc. will have to travel without this mail delivery centre do not do anything for the competency of the company or for the possibility of reducing our carbon emissions.

I do not think it is a narrow decision made on a commercial basis. We can blow that out of the water. There was a Labour Court recommendation in which there was agreement with the unions that a centre would close. It is extraordinary when one looks at Athlone and Portlaoise, with only 32 miles between them, that a political decision was made to close Cork. That is not to argue that any of them should close; I would argue that we should keep all three open. This company has turned a corner and we have just gone through the figures to show how. In addition, we also have a company with a history where, at the very moment that parcel deliveries were taking off, it closed the SDS centre on the Naas Road. It seems to have a history of making ill-judged and badly-timed decisions about its business. We are on the cusp of doing something about broadband. The Minister, Deputy Bruton, and Minister of State, Deputy Canney, sitting opposite us have consistently said that we need this and will not do without it. They have said that rural broadband will be delivered come hell or high water. If we are to deliver rural broadband on the scale envisaged and for people to have access to it to buy online, surely the volume in parcel deliveries will increase even more. Consider the distance that those parcel vans will have to travel.

The closure of the rural post offices has had a devastating effect on towns and villages. The closure of Little Island will have a devastating effect on the decent, unionised, pensionable jobs that the population there can enjoy. I have no confidence in the proposal that a jobs fair or redeployment scheme will protect the lifestyle, wages and income of those workers. We may see many of them being forced into precarious non-unionised and low-paid jobs because that is the economy that we are living in. Instead, this Government should subsidise An Post with an amount that will keep it alive and vibrant. This would keep pensionable jobs that allow people to spend money that goes back into the economy. It is not rocket science. What is going on here is that people are being told to move over and make way for the great lord, competition. If any company wants to set up and compete with An Post on the same scale, this Government will facilitate it to do so, as it has done in facilitating every aspect of competition. We want to see the workers in Little Island protected and their jobs ring-fenced. I do not have the same level of confidence that some Deputies seem to enjoy in the union. After all, it did the deal and instead of fighting to keep those jobs when the economy has been turned around, it has been much too silent on the issue.

Deputy Ruth Coppinger: Information on Ruth Coppinger Zoom on Ruth Coppinger The closure of the mail centre in Cork has been presented as a done deal by An Post, backed up by the Government and apparently by a report; the media narrative that it is inevitable; the Labour amendment to propose to accept redundancies; and, the national union leadership which locked into the closure of at least one of the centres nationally. I would say to workers not to let their fate be decided by other people. Workers have been told the news this week. We encourage them to come together to discuss how this can be reacted to. Workers are not powerless. We saw it with the transport strikes and with the nurses and midwives. Opposing the closure and defending jobs is a viable and necessary option. The reality of the Fine Gael narrative is that it says there is full employment and there is even a suggestion that people can go and get another job anywhere. What kind of job? Jobs that are precarious, low-paid and which have poor pension and other entitlements are the order of the day.

What could workers do to maintain these jobs? Political pressure is vital. We all know that the Government has influence, as does its partner in government, Fianna Fáil. There will shortly be a by-election in Cork and also a general election in the near future. Some 240 workers and their families can have an impact on those elections. They could organise a public meeting of workers, booking a huge hotel for it, to which all parties and candidates would be invited and left with a message that, in no uncertain terms, workers do not want to accept redundancies and that this decision must be reversed. The idea that unity is strength is important. The attempt to pit one mail centre against another, with Cork against Athlone or Portlaoise, should be rejected. An Post workers can unite. The workers from the four mail centres could meet to discuss a united campaign against closure of any of the centres.

There is significant potential to increase jobs in the parcel sector. That is the message of this motion tonight. We all know and do not need to be told that posting letters is no longer common. A ComReg survey in 2015 showed the exponential growth of the parcel sector. An Post is already the largest player of this, with 40% of the sector. There are seven other much lesser players. Why would a company which is the key player in a sector allow a modern centre in the second city of the country to be closed down when it could be expanded to facilitate its growth into the parcel sector? Some 64% of Irish consumers had parcels delivered by post. Some 50% now shop online. Online shopping has increased fivefold in just three years. Small businesses spend €11,000 to €15,000 on parcel delivery every year; it is a significant growing sector. This motion argues that there is no need for any job losses in An Post. This should be diversified into the parcel sector. There is potential for support from other An Post workers in Cork. For example, many casual workers will lose out in the other depots in Cork if this centre closes because they will not be able to get casual or part-time work there. The idea that an injury to one is an injury to all is the old trade union slogan that the unions were built on. A one-day strike in Cork would send a message to An Post. Actions such as these would send a signal to the company and the political parties that jobs matter.

The Labour Party amendment is the opposite of what I have just advocated and contrary to what Deputy Sherlock himself said. It cuts out any idea of opposing the closure of the mail centre and just argues about accepting redundancies.

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