Over the past year we have been receiving an increasing number of complaints from Noseweek postal subscribers – most of them in the Northern provinces – that they have been getting their copies up to a month late, or not at all. That was our first indication that something was not right at the Post Office.
But there was no mention of it anywhere in the news media or in parliament.
We soon enough established from contacts in the Post Office that the major sorting centres were experiencing constant labour unrest, with sporadic wildcat strikes, walkouts and go-slows at the biggest sorting hub outside Johannesburg, called Witspos, and erratically at other sorting centres. Questions about what the problem might be were more generally met with a shrug. Infuriating!
Eventually we got at least one explanation that made sense: the Post Office’s accountants had noted years back that, with the growth of the internet and cellphones, correspondence by post was in dramatic decline. Pointing to the government’s experience with the railways where, as a result of falling passenger numbers and goods volumes of competition from the rapid-trucking industry and air travel, they were faced with plummeting incomes, while a growing number of retired employees were demanding pensions and medical aid that the government would have to cough up for.
Far smarter, said the bean counters, if you employ only temporary workers who are not entitled to pensions and medical aid, they can be fired at relatively short notice without having to be paid expensive retrenchment packages.
It made such good sense that the Post Office adopted this as policy without a second thought and, apparently, without proper regard to labour laws. Within no time, 75% of the employees at Witspos were “temporary” staff not entitled to the benefits that accrue to permanent employees. The only problem was that, after years in the job – and contrary to labour law – they were still rated as temporary. Trade unionists and would-be trade unionists naturally saw a gap in the market. They demanded the permanent employment and benefits to which they are entitled. Management, apparently dumbfounded by their cheek, routinely said they would consult higher management and report back… but would everyone please go back to work in the meantime?
But the Post Office is desperately wanting to cling to that genius scheme to reduce commitments in a declining market, so they don’t report back. Each month, now each week, everyone’s back on strike. With no change in strategy, except that the disruptions are bigger, and come with ever more extravagant wage demands.
President Jacob Zuma and his cabinet have apparently not noticed or don’t care; their next bonus is coming from Moscow, so what’s to care about the post office? In any event it’s just another Western colonialist thing. And what about the Post Office’s customers: the thousands of small businesses that market on the internet but deliver by post? And their employees? “They vote EFF anyway.” And what about every magazine publisher in the country? “They’re just troublemakers.”
The Postal Workers Union doesn’t have a clue either. It has failed to comprehend, or explain to members that the Post Office is, sadly, a dying business. They could, just extend its life (and their jobs) for a few years yet, by providing an efficient service for those who still need it, while demanding only a modest (but fair) wage. But that’s not their attitude. Judging by recent events it’s “Fuck the post office customers who entrusted their business to us” – the government must pay us more, regardless of the Post Office’s losses.
Considering Nkandla, there is a certain perverse logic to their argument.
But Noseweek (and many like us) are rushing for the exit. Last month Noseweek hand-delivered where we could, and drove hundreds of kilometres taking bundles to suburban post offices for direct sorting to their PO boxes. Because we care about our customers.
But from now on we will no longer be chancing it with the Post Office. This month is the last they’ll see of us.
Goodbye Mr Postman. We will remember the good days when you were known for providing an honourable, regular service. Once a lifeline you are now a threat to our survival. Noseweek has to move on.
Dear Reader, if you still haven’t provided us with a street or PostNet address, please do so right away. That way you’ll be back to getting your Noseweek like clockwork.
Copyright © 2014 www.Noseweek.co.za
This editor’s letter appeared in Noseweek Issue #181, 1 November 2014. It is republished here with the permission of its author.