Postmasters refusing to operate An Post account
Plans by An Post to take on the banks with the launch of a new current account have hit a stumbling block.
The new Smart account is a key attempt to ensure the survival of the post office network.
But the Irish Independent has learned that postmasters, who are members of the Irish Postmasters' Union, are refusing to co-operate with the roll-out of the new product.
The dispute comes as there are fears that up to 500 post offices could be forced to close as they are losing money, with consumers increasingly using electronic forms of payment.
The Smart account is aimed at offering an electronic payment option to the 1.7 million customers who use the post office network each week.
But those receiving social welfare payments, such as child benefit, are increasingly having the money transferred straight to a bank account.
Less than 10pc of new pensioners, for example, are opting for cash payments through a post office.
A letter from the Irish Postmasters' Union to its members advises them not to co-operate with the roll-out of the new Smart account.
The letter, signed by IPU general secretary Ned O'Hara, says that the union has twice voted at its annual conference not to co-operate on the training of postmasters to operate the new account without an agreement on the future structure of the post office network.
The IPU wants An Post to agree to recommendations made by businessman Bobby Kerr on a new contract, and is seeking extra funding for postmasters.
"In the absence of any agreement on the future of the network, the national executive are advising and recommending to you that you do not engage in any training in relation to the An Post Smart card account, until final agreement is reached on outstanding issues," the letter said.
It is understood the new account is available at 50 post offices that An Post operates directly.
There was no comment from either An Post or the IPU.
It is understood talks are continuing between management at An Post and the postmasters.
And the semi-state has not asked members of the IPU, who are contractors, to roll it out until the dispute is resolved.
An Post, whose chief executive is David McRedmond, lost €15.6m last year.
The new account will be a direct challenge to AIB, Bank of Ireland, Ulster, Permanent TSB, and KBC.
Account holders will get a debit card, which can be used across the MasterCard network.
Customers will also be offered a reward scheme on a range of products and services from groceries and clothing to electricity and insurance, which An Post said could save families up to €660 a year.
There is no cheque book or overdraft facility with the new product.