25 March 2004 Edition

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Truth lost in An Post

BY ROBBIE SMYTH

Morgan calls for workers to be reinstated

Over 500 mail sorting workers are sitting idle this week, effectively locked out by management, after days of turmoil at Ireland's largest mail sorting centre in an industrial relations dispute that threatens the long term viability of An Post as a commercial business.

The worker suspensions at the Naas Road mail centre began last Friday 19 March, the same day that An Post Communications Workers Union (CWU) decided not to start industrial action, despite workers voting six to one in favour of going on strike. The CWU represents 90% of An Post workers.

However, Friday was also the same day that An Post management decided to introduce new working arrangements without employee agreement and against a background where there had been an effective collapse of management union talks on pay, productivity, share ownership and redundancy deals.

An Post is leaking money at almost €600,000 a week. Rather than point to their own failures, such as crazily expensive proposals to spend tens of millions of euro on post boxes for rural customers or that An Post is losing money in handling British mail while its Irish mail service is profitable, the companyís senior management sought to target payroll costs for cuts.

Donal Curtin, An Post's chief executive, had already decided not to pay workers a 3% wage increase due in January under the Sustaining Progress partnership deal. Now An Post are concerned that almost half of their wage bill is spent on overtime.

The average take home wage of a postal worker with overtime is €40,000 annually. This is hardly a huge amount of money and against the back drop of Irish and Dublin property prices is hardly going to enrich anybody and leaves one wondering what An Post management considers a fair wage?

Perhaps the most bizarre aspect to the An Post dispute has been the back seat taken by the coalition government and Dermot Ahern, the minister for Communications, who collectively are, in practical terms, the real managers of An Post.

Speaking on Tuesday 23 March, Ahern declared that "An Post is in deep financial trouble and no amount of wishful thinking can airbrush away this reality". If this is true, surely An Post employees should be at work making money while negotiations are ongoing? Ahern, while welcoming exploratory talks between the sides which began yesterday, has still not addressed the issues of the workers being dismissed.

It fell then to Sinn Féin TD Arthur Morgan to raise this issue in Leinster House, also on Tuesday. Calling for the workers to be reinstated, Morgan said that "the shadow of William Martin Murphy must be removed from the industrial relations process" and criticised the "smug and arrogant" attitudes of Ministers.

Morgan highlighted perhaps the real agenda of the dispute, when he said that the mishandling of the dispute by An Post has "shown up the fact that the Partnership Process is not about real partnership but merely represents an attempt by the Government and employers to co-opt union leaderships for their own anti-worker agenda".


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