Union vows to fight “slaughter” of Post Office jobs

GroundUp writes that up to 6,000 South African Post Office workers – more than half the current workforce – stand to lose their jobs by the end of March. But the Communication Workers Union are fighting to reduce the proposed number of retrenchments. The number of retrenchments at the beleaguered institution are laid out in the Business Rescue Plan published by Business Rescue Practitioners Anoosh Rooplan and Juanito Damons on 23 November. The resultant notice of possible termination of posts in line with Section 189 of the Labour Relations Act, was published on 31 December and subsequently distributed to employees.

The Post Office entered into business rescue on 10 July after being placed under provisional liquidation following litigation by creditors, including landlords to whom the Post Office had failed to pay rent. According to the Business Rescue Plan (BRP), the Post Office has debts of R4.5-billion. Of this R3.9-billion is owed to Postbank, with about R400-million owed in rental arrears. The operating losses, states the BRP, are “due to declines in revenue and an unsustainable cost base”, with the amount of money earned being less than half the money spent on operating costs. The biggest cost is salaries and wages, with the Post Office paying its employees R1.50 for every rand it earns.

As of July, at the commencement of the business rescue, there were 894 operational Post Office branches, but only 113 of them were profitable. This was after 384 branches had closed since the 2022 financial year. But of these closures, only 47 were planned. The remaining 337, some of which were profitable, closed due to non-payment of rent and utilities. Although 6,000 jobs are to be cut from a staff complement of 11,038, the business rescue practitioners state their plan saves the remaining 5,038 posts, which would all have been lost if the Post Office were to be liquidated, as well as the workers running the risk of receiving no dividends from the liquidation process. But the BRP’s success depends on a remaining R2.4-billion appropriation and an additional R3.8-billion equity funding coming from the National Treasury. Should all proceed as planned, the retrenchment process was expected to be completed by 31 March.

The Communication Workers Union (CWU), which is the largest union in the Post Office, representing 34% of all employees, intends to stem the job losses. “Clearly the business rescue plan is not worker friendly in any way, it is creditors seeing what they can get out of the process,” said CWU collective bargaining coordinator Nathen Bowers, adding that more than 70% of the creditors voted for large scale retrenchments prior to the business rescue plan being developed. Bowers said the first sitting of the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) for the appointment of a facilitator for the retrenchment process, is on 26 January. Bowers said there are regulations by the Independent Communication Authority of South Africa (ICASA) which state how many Post Office branches there should be in an area, based on the population. The CWU would be “looking into” how the retrenchment of 6,000 workers aligned with the ICASA regulations.

The Post Office has also not been paying over employees’ pension fund deductions to the Post Office Retirement Fund since April 2020, despite 7.5% being deducted from workers’ salaries as part of their retirement fund contributions. This is also despite a scathing Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) judgment delivered on 31 December 2021 ordering SAPO to pay the retirement fund arrears, as well as 9.75% interest on the outstanding amount, within five days of the order. A Post Office manager, who cannot be named as he had no authority to speak to the media, said their retirement funds were still being deducted, but not paid over.

by Steve Kretzmann

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