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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 Ruth Coppinger: Information on Ruth Coppinger Zoom on Ruth Coppinger] From the very outset, that is cutting across the workers having any ability to fight. I even heard a claim from the Labour Party saying that we would cut across people getting redundancies. I will finish with a quotation from Rosa Luxemburg who was a socialist and a trade unionist 100 years ago. When they were fighting for the eight-hour day she said:

It is clear that you must not demand a ten-hour day if you want the eight-hour day. Do the contrary and you’ll do well: if there is any possibility of getting legislation to limit working time to ten hours, it is only by constantly pressing for an eight-hour day.

I urge the leadership of the CWU nationally not to lock itself in, and not to manage the closure of the centre but to discuss expansion into the parcel sector with the local workforce.

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment (Deputy Seán Canney): Information on Seán Canney Zoom on Seán Canney An Post's announcement that it is to close its mail centre has undoubtedly been very difficult for An Post's workers, their families and the wider Cork area. The Government very much welcomes the commitment by An Post that all staff will be offered strong exit packages and redeployment opportunities within An Post's delivery and post office networks in the Cork area, where nearly 1,000 people are currently employed. In addition, further education grants and support in securing jobs with new employers will be provided. All relevant State supports will be made available to workers impacted by the announcement.

An Post has committed to dealing with the closure and its impact on workers affected in a sensitive manner. I am pleased to note that An Post has engaged, and is continuing to engage, with the CWU to ensure the best possible outcome for affected staff. I understand that the union is working closely with the company in terms of how to deal with the immediate impact on employees.

The financial challenges facing An Post have been well documented and, as Deputies will be aware, are primarily due to the impact of email and other forms of online communication on mail volumes. In this context, An Post faced growing losses and has had to undertake a major restructuring of its business to continue to be able to build, maintain and protect a service that meets the needs of communities across the country. There is widespread acceptance that elements of the company require modernisation to build, maintain and protect a service that meets the needs of communities. Much time and effort has been spent in the past two years working to restructure An Post. The work was critical in order to save it and protect thousands of jobs and the post office network across the country.

In the face of the serious declines in the volume of mail and post office business, the board of An Post oversaw the preparation of a strategic plan setting out a transformation of the company in both the mail and retail business. An Post has advised that as part of the process a lot of detailed work was done to ensure that the right infrastructure is in place to adapt to the rapidly changing mail and parcel business.

Reflecting its commitment to sustaining a nationwide post office network and daily mail service, the Government made €30 million available in State funding which is being used to support the renewal of the post office network, which will require €15 million, and the continued fulfilment of a five-day per week mail delivery service, which will cost another €15 million. As An Post is a commercial State body, the support was provided by way of a loan.

Critically important decisions have been made and An Post has been stabilised because of the action that has been taken. The implementation of the strategic plan is continuing to yield results. An Post has gone from being in a very precarious financial position to making a profit. However, as its chief executive has noted, An Post is "not out of the woods yet". It has taken a major effort to deliver the recovery but it will require greater efforts again to ensure the sustainability of the company and the jobs it provides across the country.

An Post employs 9,000 staff and it continues to have a strong rural focus. As noted earlier, An Post will employ almost 1,000 people in the Cork area. It is important to understand the extent of An Post's footprint in rural Ireland and the need to protect the employment the company provides across the country. A total of 6,000 of An Post's employees are outside Dublin and 4,700 are outside cities. Some 79% of An Post's post offices and 80% of its delivery facilities are also outside cities.

The closure of a mail centre was considered by the Labour Court in its recommendation of September 2017. The recommendation was that payment of a 2% pay increase from 1 July 2017 was conditional on necessary cost savings being achieved. One of the requirements of the recommendation was the conclusion of discussions in relation to An Post's proposal to reduce the size of its mail processing network. The recommendation provides that 50% of the savings arising from the closure of a mail centre would contribute towards the cost of the pay award. Following extensive consideration, the Cork mail centre was assessed by An Post as being the most suitable for closure. Currently, the Little Island plant is operating at below 25% capacity as mail volumes continue to decline. Letter processing to and from the Munster region will be incorporated into existing operations in Portlaoise and Dublin. There will be no impact on service quality or mail delivery times for customers in the south west.

An Post has indicated that the closure will result in savings of €11 million per year and that the company will invest €15 million in its parcel infrastructure in Cork and the wider region over the next three years. Parcel volumes are increasing dramatically due to the growth of online shopping. A total of 1,040 parcel lockers are being installed across Cork city and county to make collections more convenient for customers and a major parcel delivery centre for Cork will open by 2022. A new, all-electric fleet with zero emissions will be rolled out for deliveries and collections in Cork city within weeks, extending to Kinsale, Bandon, Midleton and Mallow from next year. A new €750,000 mail delivery unit to serve the Skibbereen area will open next month. Cork's GPO in Oliver Plunkett Street is to undergo a major refurbishment reflecting the rapidly growing range of services being developed for customers.

Where such difficult decisions have to be made, they must be made in the best interests of the company, its employees and its customers by the board which has been put in place to lead and direct An Post. As such, it would not be appropriate for a Minister to intervene and instruct An Post to reverse its decision, as the motion proposes. There is no doubt that continued transformation of the postal business will be difficult and will require tough decisions but the new changes are designed to make An Post fit for a future where the organisation can be confident, robust, and begin growing again.

Deputy Mick Barry: Information on Mick Barry Zoom on Mick Barry Before moving on to the main issues I will start by referring to two small points that came up in the course of the debate. The Minister was asked about the McKinsey report. He seemed to indicate that there was no such report. He indicated that McKinsey had been involved in the process since 2016 and had been working with An Post but there was not a report, as such. That is a very surprising and an interesting development because the McKinsey report has been spoken about and batted back and forth quite a bit recently. For the first time we have an indication that it may not exist. I ask the Minister to clarify that point after the debate. Perhaps the media might be interested in asking about it as well.

More importantly, we learn of a second report, the Accenture report, which Deputy Micheál Martin got to glance at when he met the chief executive of the company yesterday. That report should be made public. There should be no secret report when we are looking at the future of An Post and the future of the Cork mail centre and 240 jobs. The Minister should publish the report.

I can report to the House that An Post has been invited to come in here next Wednesday, 10 July from 9 a.m. to 12 noon to answer questions at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment on this and other issues. An Post must take up that invitation and not refuse it and try to be out the gap for the summer. We will put pressure on An Post to do that. We want to question it about this.

In terms of the more substantive issues. The Minister said that this was not a short-term decision. It flies in the face of all the information and data that have been given in the course of this debate about the boom in parcel deliveries. The argument has been made that Cork was chosen instead of another mail centre because it might be easier to redeploy staff in Cork. I do not believe that the welfare of the staff was a serious consideration in the matter. I believe that the key consideration was that An Post felt it could get serious money from the sale of the building and the site.

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