Postmasters face sanctions in welfare row
Postmasters face the prospect of being sanctioned by An Post after parcels of controversial social welfare forms were sent back to the Department of Social Protection.
The Irish Independent can reveal that An Post formally warned postmasters that such action will constitute a "serious breach of contract".
The warning was issued after this newspaper revealed last week that postmasters were preparing to deliver the forms - which call on customers to use banks over post offices where possible - to the department headquarters.
Some parcels were delivered by the Irish Postmasters' Union (IPU) during a protest yesterday.
Postmaster Sean Martin, a member of the IPU national executive, said the protest was against Government policy. "We are worried about our jobs. There is huge frustration among postmasters because not only are the Government directing people towards the bank, they are diverting business away from post offices and their own company," he said.
"We believe that we have to take a stand and if that means that a sanction will be taken against me, I am prepared to take that," he added.
The prospect of the postmasters being sanctioned en masse is a new departure for An Post and has significantly deepened tensions with the IPU.
The memo states: "The company understands that the Irish Postmasters' Union has issued a further communication to its members advising them to prepare a parcel of the recently received Department of Social Protection forms to be sent to Joan Burton, the Minister for Social Protection, subject to each office retaining a supply for short-term use.
"The company wishes to make it absolutely clear that under no circumstance should any of the forms be sent to the Department of Social Protection. Any failure to comply with this communication will constitute a serious breach of contract," it adds.
The department sparked outrage after it sent out thousands of application forms urging customers to use financial institutions as a means of receiving State benefits.
The forms, which allow customers to apply for the likes of the state pension and the Household Benefits package, say customers should use banks over post offices where possible. The forms advised that the electronic funds transfer was the "best payment option for you".
IPU General Secretary Ned O'Hara said: "These postmasters are paid by piece. They are paid by contract and they are being asked by An Post and the department to hand out forms which actually reduce their livelihood."
A spokesman for An Post did not wish to comment.