‘Dutch model’ a postal nightmare

Visiting Dutch postal union officer Susan Eijgermans gave a shocking account of the chaos that privatisation and unrestricted end-to-end competition has caused to her country's postal industry, when she met with CWU leaders this week.

Susan, who heads the postal section of the Dutch federation of unions, ABVAKABO, explained how, since 2005, traditional full-time delivery jobs at incumbent operator Post NL have dropped from 20,000 to 7,700, while the company's part-time workforce has risen to 18,000.

The numbers of those employed by the new companies on a part-time casual basis is estimated at some 16,000.

The then state-owned operator KPN was listed on the stock market back in 1994. Its post offices, mail delivery and telecoms activities being separated off after privatisation - in contrast to the sequence of events here in the UK - and what was originally the incumbent company is now called Post NL.

Dutch postal union visit
Dutch postal union officers Birte Nellen (centre left) and Susan Eijgermans (centre right) with John Baldwin (left) and Dave Ward (right)
And in another key difference from the UK experience, new market entrants in the Netherlands have operated in the letter delivery market since 2000, when Post NL's main competitor company Sandd was created.

Primarily through low pay, casual employment, a concentration on the low-cost end of the market, and aggressive cost-cutting, Sandd, and other new market entrants, have taken some 20 per cent of market share, but Susan pointed out that the human cost of this commercial success has been very high.

"These new companies have typically employed people on a casual basis and are paid per item delivered. They pick up mail and then sort it at home and can deliver any time within a specific period of days," she explained.

ABVAKABO has campaigned hard to improve these working conditions and to recruit among these workers, but it has proved an uphill struggle. There has been some progress, however, with a new law set to come into force at the end of this year which at least obliges some minimum employment standards.

"By the end of this year, 80 per cent of the workforce must be on proper contracts of employment and be paid at least the legal minimum wage," she explained.

But the aggressive competition of Sandd and others has exerted a downward drag on the terms and conditions of the traditionally unionised and full-time postal delivery workers of Post NL, leading to a major restructure of the company.

"Last year, Post NL launched a new system which they intended to concentrate all of the pre-delivery sorting in just six locations around the country," Susan told her surprised audience.

The intention of the company was to split the delivery and sorting functions altogether and for its delivery workforce to be wholly part-time on a standard 25 hours per week.

But the plan, which started in January 2012, proved to be "completely disastrous" in practice, with "lots of post severely delayed, some was damaged and many items never arrived at all," she continued, "and it was halted in April, after angry commercial customers put pressure on Post NL."

The company plans to roll out a much less radical restructure plan this year, Susan said, adding that the union was campaigning to keep as many full-time jobs as possible and seeking negotiations with that aim.

John Baldwin
CWU head of international affairs John Baldwin said: "It's extremely informative to hear first-hand how dangerous and damaging unrestricted competition can be to workers' rights and to the service itself. We're very grateful to Susan for coming over and speaking to us and there are clearly some hard lessons to learn for us all."

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