Postmasters to ballot members on first action in State's history
The country's Post Office network faces being thrown into chaos as postmasters prepare to ballot over savage cuts to their pay.
An Post is forging ahead with plans to impose pay reductions worth thousands of euro per post office in a move that postmasters fear will "cannibalise" the network. The introduction of fresh pay cuts has devastated postmasters, particularly in rural Ireland, who insist their businesses are already fighting for survival.
The Irish Postmasters' Union (IPU) is now preparing to ballot members over the pay cuts, which are high as €16,000 per year in the country's larger post offices.
The outcome of the ballot could mean the network is disrupted by postmasters for the first time in the history of the State.
And in a significant blow to the Government's rural TDs, postmasters are also preparing to put forward a team of candidates at the next general election.
The prospect of post offices becoming a key general election issue has already put ministers on high alert.
Aside from Irish Water, concern over the future of post offices attracted the largest single demonstration outside the Dáil last year and prompted one Government TD to threaten his resignation.
There has been particular concern about An Post's pursuance of the so-called post point outlets.
The post points, which are located inside supermarkets, offer customers services such as paying bills, sending letters and parcels, topping up a mobile phone and buying stamps.
Rural Affairs Minister Ann Phelan has already informed her senior Government colleagues of the deep concern being felt by postmasters over the future of their businesses.
The anger over the pay cuts increased after it emerged An Post returned to profit last year and paid managers combined bonuses of over €800,000 last year. An Post has also introduced postal services in supermarkets and in delivery units in a move that postmasters insist is forcing their closure.
The company is now seeking savings of some €4.6m which has resulted in pay reductions of €1,000-€16,000, depending on the level of social welfare that is administered by the post office.
The contract between An Post and postmasters determines that changes to payment rates can only come into effect by mutual agreement and therefore an independent arbitrator was appointed last August to review the issue.
The arbitrator recommended in their "interim findings" that the annual level of savings sought by An Post be reduced to €2.5m and further recommended that both parties enter a facilitation process.
Postmasters wrote to An Post last November accepting the arbitrator's level of cuts, for a three-month period, during which a facilitation process should take place to reach a longer-term agreement.
But the company last week rejected the offer, saying it will not talk with the union until they accept the cuts on a permanent basis.
IPU General Secretary Ned O'Hara confirmed to the Irish Independent that postmasters will now be balloted on the issue.
"The IPU believes that this is an opportunistic attempt by An Post to cut postmasters' incomes and is not warranted.
"The company has returned to profit, has paid bonuses to managers and has been investing in new services such as Post and Pay, PayPoint and Delivery Service Units which are taking business away from post offices and postmasters.
"There is a need to take a longer-term view of postmasters' income because it is going to reduce anyway as more people return to employment and the volume of welfare payments reduce.
"Unless the company is prepared to be fair and engage properly with postmasters, I cannot see any cuts being accepted.
"We know that there is a lot of support in communities for post offices because of the social role they provide.
"An Post needs to fully recognise this in its dealings with postmasters," he added.
A spokesperson for An Post said no comment would be made while the arbitration process was ongoing.
He pointed out that the €800,000 paid out last year was "performance-related pay".