Postal workers paying bill for EU liberalisation pressure

11 March 2009

Postal workers paying bill for EU liberalisation pressure

SP Member of Parliament Sharon Gesthuizen today attacked the government's intention to open the postal market to competition from 1st April. This liberalisation will lead to a wage cut of 15% for postal delivery workers and savage wage-based competition. “We're led to believe that everyone should be able to earn the minimum wage and that there should be no competition around working conditions or conditions of service," says Gesthuizen. "Meanwhile, postal workers are losing hundreds of euros a month and hardly any of the postal workers in the new firms which are entering the sector are paid the minimum wage."

Frank Heemskerk, Labour Secretary of State for Economic Affairs in the Netherlands' centre-right/centre-left coalition, told Parliament that a great deal would be gained from the liberalisation and that the social rights of postal delivery workers in the new firms would be guaranteed. In saying this he ignored the fact that postal workers, after years of hard work, are now expected to pay the bill for Brussels' intention to liberalise the postal market. “Brussels is yet again blind to the interests of the workers and slavish in its devotion to 'free market' ideology," says Gesthuizen. "And once again the Dutch government wants to be the best pupil in the class. Soon we'll be the very first country in Europe with a wholly liberalised postal sector. And this Labour Secretary of State thinks that that is more important than accepting his responsibility and moving to prevent the creation of an extra few tens of thousands of working poor. That's just what's happening now with these postal workers."

The debate demonstrated clearly once again that basic social rights are a suitable case for negotiation. Many workers in the new postal firms are working on the basis of piece rates, paid in other words per letter delivered. A recent investigation by the Labour Inspectorate showed that, because of this, large groups of postal workers are earning below the minimum wage. It has now been agreed that this can continue for the next four years, and that after that period 20% of delivery workers will remain without contracts. “Even before the government came out with its plans to combat the crisis," Gesthuizen notes, "the signal was given that it would be a fine thing to dodge any obligation to respect social rights. The minimum wage does not apparently apply to 20% of the new postal workers. A scandal. Obviously, for the government, their rights can be negotiated away.”

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