Thursday, 3 February 2005
An ongoing debate is taking place within the House and throughout the country on the future of An Post and its staff. An Post has a considerable linkage system in place throughout the country which consists of a delivery service that is in touch with all aspects of society. It has post offices and sub-post offices located strategically and in such a way as to enable An Post to use its infrastructure to deliver services and facilities on an ongoing basis. Unfortunately, the postal and packaging services came unstuck and industrial action almost had to take place.
At a recent meeting of the Joint Committee on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, it was revealed that there are very poor industrial relations between management and staff and there is no investment in improving them. Will the Minister try to ensure that postal services in the form of distribution and packaging are continued into the foreseeable future? He should take full advantage of the situation with a view to ensuring that the continuity of the postal services is agreed. Owing to time constraints, it was not possible to get answers to a series of questions put by Members at the recent committee meeting. The time between now and when the committee next meets should be put to good use given that this is an important service that has delivered to all parts of the country and has become a vital institution.
I cannot understand why the parcel service must be discontinued at a time when the demand for parcel delivery services is increasing not just in this country but throughout the world. A notion seems to have become prevalent that with new electronic systems of messaging distribution there will be no necessity in the future for the old fashioned postal services. As I told the committee meeting yesterday, certain things cannot be transmitted electronically and one of them is a parcel, despite the best efforts of modern technology. It is imperative that every effort is made to secure the existing parcel delivery service and to develop that service. At the same time, every effort must be made to retain the current network of post offices and sub-post offices throughout the country. They have given good service.
I was a Member of this House when the legislation establishing An Post was passed. It provided for the transfer of civil servants from the Civil Service to An Post. That legislation provided that the staff transferred would, in terms of remuneration and pensions, have an entitlement equal to that available to their colleagues in the Civil Service. At some stage, the lines got blurred and somebody decided that the responsibility would be transferred to the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources. However, that Minister must also have regard to the 1983 legislation.
Brian Lenihan Jnr (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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I am replying on behalf of the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Noel Dempsey.
It would be useful to set out the background to the current difficulties being experienced following the decision of the board of An Post to close the company's parcels subsidiary, the special delivery service, SDS, and to reintegrate the parcels business back into the main company. There have been heavy losses in recent years at SDS. These losses amounted to €18 million over a three year period to 2003, with losses of €12 million in 2003 alone. Further heavy losses will be sustained in 2004. In these circumstances, the board of An Post, at its July meeting, decided to close SDS and to reintegrate the parcels business into the letter post division.
A total of 180 SDS jobs will be reintegrated into letter post operations and an entirely voluntary redundancy package will be introduced for an anticipated 270 job losses. The redundancy package will be funded by SDS property disposals.
It is my understanding that, following a request from ICTU, the national implementation body held a hearing to determine whether the company breached the partnership terms of Sustaining Progress in making its decision to reintegrate SDS. The national implementation body, as part of its determination, proposed that an independent facilitator be appointed to institute a process for information sharing, including financial details. Mr. Peter Cassells has been appointed as the facilitator and the process has been up and running for some time.
Following recent industrial unrest at SDS in the run-up to the planned closure and in a renewed effort to resolve the issues surrounding that closure in as fair and transparent a manner as possible, the matter will come before the Labour Court on 11 February. Critically, both sides have agreed to be bound by the court's recommendation. In the meantime, the closure of SDS has been delayed for a short period to give the court the space and time to examine carefully the issues arising, with due regard to the interests of all parties.
Turning to the wider picture in the postal services, the issues of the payment of Sustaining Progress increases to An Post employees, together with the agreement and implementation of the recovery strategy for the company, have also been referred to the Labour Court for arbitration. These issues will come to the court on 7 February.
The company has pleaded "inability to pay" Sustaining Progress increases following heavy losses amounting to €43 million in 2003. This is an ongoing matter of dispute between union and management and no easy solution presents itself in view of the critical financial state of An Post. On the recovery strategy issue, the Labour Relations Commission has been involved in exhaustive discussion with management and unions throughout 2004. Despite some progress, agreement has not been reached between the parties on all the details of a viable and effective recovery plan for the company.
It is essential that both sides continue to work together in conjunction with the State's industrial relations machinery to broker a deal that will allow the company to deliver quality services to our citizens while at the same time offering good well paid employment to its employees. I urge both parties to negotiate in partnership to achieve the necessary agreement that will enable An Post to meet the challenges facing the postal sector in the months and years ahead.