Postal deliveries to remote rural areas will come under threat if the government proceeds with legislation to liberalise the postal market, a union has warned. The move is up for debate in the Dáil this Thursday.
Ian McDonald of the Communications Workers Union, which represents the vast majority of the 10,000 workers in An Post, said the EU-backed plan to open up the letter market to competition may be workable in most mainland European countries that have high-density urban centres, but was not suited to a country such as Ireland because many people lived in scattered rural locations.
Under liberalisation, any operator in Ireland or abroad will be able to seek authorisation to deliver post anywhere in the country.
McDonald explained that An Post has the monopoly on letter delivery, but in what is called the state company's universal social obligation (USO), it must deliver to every address in Ireland, no matter how remote.
An Post makes a substantial loss delivering post to remote rural areas under the USO but it finances this from profitable postal routes in the main urban centres such as Dublin, Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford.
According to the CWU official, the problem with liberalisation without restriction is private companies will only be interested in the profitable urban routes and will not be interested in delivering letters to more remote areas. This means An Post will no longer have the profitable urban routes to subvent the loss-making rural routes, threatening postal deliveries in the long-term, he said.
"This is exactly what is happening in Britain at the moment after they liberalised the postal service," said McDonald.
The CWU official is also concerned about the impact on jobs in An Post which is already on target to reduce staff by 1,400 by 2012.
"In the Netherlands, the liberalisation of the postal service gave rise to a number of cowboy operators or a 'man with a van' who hired cheap labour to deliver mail some of which ended up dumped in rubbish bins," said McDonald.