Liberalisation of the post leads to nineteenth century working conditions

24 October 2009

Liberalisation of the post leads to nineteenth century working conditions

With postal workers in the United Kingdom entering what is widely expected to be the most bitter industrial dispute since the Miners' Strike of 1984-5, their colleagues in the Netherlands face similar problems. Given that the drive for liberalisation which lies behind the disputes comes from Brussels, this is hardly surprising. In both countries and other European Union member states, the liberalisation of postal services is leading to working conditions akin to those of a century ago or worse. SP Member of Parliament Sharon Gesthuizen reacted to the announcement that postal delivery workers at Dutch national carrier TNT, majority ownership of which is now in private hands, must choose between pay cuts and mass dismissals by describing the ultimatum as offering a false choice. "TNT is degrading postal workers from human beings to 'costs'. The workers have complained that they are being hounded out of their jobs or forced to work unpaid overtime."

Sharon GesthuizenAn enquiry commissioned by the postal workers' unions found that alternatives for large-scale reorganisation would be unsatisfactory. Postal delivery workers are now being forced to choose in a referendum organised by these same unions: accept a pay cut or lose your job.

“Staff are taking action in a number of establishments," says Gesthuizen. "These actions appear to be enjoying success. In Zaltbommel, for example, work was interrupted in protest at failure to pay for additional hours worked, and the workers got their pay. In Rotterdam the service is understaffed and work pressure was too great, post was left undelivered. The threat of a strike led to working hours being adjusted. And in Heerlen there was a successful strike against unpaid overtime."

According to TNT, liberalisation of the postal market will lead to the rapid disappearance of full-time postal delivery workers. According to Gesthuizen there is some truth in this, with the government turning a blind eye to the fact that workers at post-pirates Sandd and Netwerk VSP are employed part-time for rates below the minimum wage. "But this will be good news for TNT. It's an excellent argument for making proper jobs into McJobs. Profits will be massively jacked up on the backs of postal workers. What we're seeing is a nineteenth century approach to labour relations. People cast on the scrapheap like so much rubbish. And all under the flag of liberalisation."

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