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Postal Services.

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 8 February 2005

Tuesday, 8 February 2005

Questions (10)

Bernard J. Durkan


63 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his preferred options for the future of An Post; the extent to which he has imparted his views to the management of the company; if he will endeavour to ensure the maximisation of the extent of services likely to be provided by the company in the future. [3874/05]

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Oral answers (5 contributions) (Question to Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources)

Since taking office, I met the chairperson and the chief executive of An Post and the board of An Post. I also met union representatives from different sectors of the company. Officials from my Department meet An Post management on a monthly basis. I am advised on the outcome of the monthly meetings.

The fundamental requirement to secure the future of our postal services is to implement a change programme. Management and unions agree that change within An Post is required if its postal services are to adapt to an environment that is itself changing. The challenge remains for unions and management to complete the negotiation process that has been under way for several months. These negotiations move to the Labour Court this week and it is important that momentum be maintained to resolve all remaining difficulties. A successful conclusion to the negotiation process will allow An Post to discharge its universal service obligation for the delivery of mail to its customers in a cost effective and efficient manner, while offering secure employment to its dedicated workforce. That is what I want to see happen and I believe this vision is widely shared within the company.

With regard to the future of our post office services, the Government and the board of An Post are committed to the objective of securing a viable and sustainable nationwide post office network. There is widespread recognition that the best strategy to sustain the network is for An Post to continue adapting to its customer needs. In this regard, I have asked the Postmasters Union and An Post to work in partnership to maximise their efforts to secure existing business and to pursue new business at every available opportunity.

I thank the Minister for his reply. Notwithstanding that he is a relatively short time in his present office, what progress has been made in establishing fundamentals with An Post and its workforce. Many issues cause concern, for example the non-payment of wage, salary and pension increases, which were statutorily due and have been outstanding for some time. Another long-standing issue is the lack of communication regarding the future of the SDS package delivery service. To what extent has the Minister ascertained the cause for the loss of business in this service, given the growth of private package delivery services at the same time? A further issue relates to determining the optimum number of general post offices and the retention of the maximum number of sub-post offices.

How does the Minister reconcile the current circumstances with the fact that the services provided by An Post, which are often the only services available in certain parts of the country, are diminishing? I acknowledge that the Minister has had this portfolio for a relatively short time. Given that he has had separate meetings with An Post and the various unions, why are the disputes going to the brink — right to the edge — before the discussions which should have taken place in the first instance take place? That has happened on at least two occasions in the past couple of months.

I share the Deputy's concern that disputes in An Post that involve internal and industrial relations always seem to go to the brink. I do not think it is a good way of doing business on either side. I accept fully the Deputy's remarks in that regard. I do not want to apportion blame or suggest who might be at fault, as Deputy Durkan did not do so, but it is clear that there is something wrong. Bodies such as the Labour Relations Commission, the Labour Court and the national implementation body and people like Peter Cassells are working to ensure that dialogue continues and agreement is reached. It is clear that it is not a normal industrial relations environment. I have argued at meetings with representatives of management and unions that they should be able to reach agreement without the intervention of third parties. It almost seems to be par for the course that third parties have to intervene in such disputes after talks between unions and management break down. I agree with the Deputy the position is unsatisfactory and I have stressed that it should not be allowed to continue.

The other issues raised by the Deputy, such as the Sustaining Progress agreement and the future of SDS, are being considered by the Labour Relations Commission, the Labour Court, the national implementation body and Peter Cassells. The Deputy will understand if I do not go into great detail about what might or might not happen in that regard. Like the Deputy, I urge both sides to reach agreement and to make progress. On the basis of the comments I have heard from Deputies on all sides of the House, it seems that we are united in our desire to see agreement reached, the reform package put in place and an efficient and effective postal service developed. I am sure that aim is shared on all sides of the House.

Has the Minister set out the policy parameters within which he expects An Post to work towards the objective he has mentioned? Has he outlined to the company the type of postal service he would like to see emerging in this country in the future?

I have made clear to both sides that I would like to see an efficient and effective postal service that provides customer satisfaction by meeting the needs of customers and employees. It is inevitable that change is needed to put such a service in place. The more I examine postal services throughout the world, the more I understand that change has to happen in Ireland quickly. The broad parameters on which I am working involve the development of a postal service that is geared to delivering for the customer and providing good employment for workers.