'Privatisation by stealth' - workers blast An Post decision to close Cork facility as they vow to fight to save jobs
Staff at an An Post mail centre that is due to be closed have accused the company of ageism and privatisation by stealth and vowed to save the facility and its 216 jobs.
An Post confirmed last month that it would close its Little Island mail centre in Cork with the loss of 216 jobs out of 240.
The closure, earmarked for next March, would leave mail centres in Portlaoise, Athlone and Dublin - but none in the south.
Workers have vowed to campaign to keep the complex open as they unveiled details of a public rally in Cork on Saturday.
Cork Mail Centre Action Group (CMCAG) official John Ahern, who works at the centre, said it was vital that the public understood the real issues involved - and the threat of creeping privatisation with the inevitable loss of next-day postal deliveries.
CMCAG official Donal Desmond said the closure was "privatisation by stealth."
"When the dust has settled over this closure, they will open a privately-run parcel hub in Cork where casual workers will be employed for minimum pay and few conditions".
"This won't be the last closure either - and the Athlone and Portlaoise centres will be under threat too."
Mr Ahern said that while An Post talked about a generous redundancy package, the opposite has proved to be the case.
Workers Norma Creech (61) and Adrienne Sheehan (62) said the company were engaged in ageism through the way staff aged over 60 were being treated.
"We do the same work as everyone else in the centre - we are not discriminated against in that way. So why should we be discriminated against when it comes to pay and redundancy packages?" Ms Sheehan asked.
An Post, headed by CEO David McRedmond, has set a limit of a maximum of two years' salary for any redundancy packages.
Adrienne said that after 14 years at the centre she should have qualified for a package worth 18 months' pay - but this was being slashed by six months because of her age.
Ms Creech, who has also worked at the centre for 14 years, said it was "hugely upsetting" to see the way a loyal workforce was being treated.
"What chance have any of us aged over 60 years of getting another job?" she said.
Mr Desmond said that after 14 years at the Cork mail centre his redundancy package would be worth just three months' pay.
Susan O'Sullivan, who has been at the mail centre for 16 years, said it made absolutely no sense for the entire south of Ireland to be left without a mail centre.
Mr Ahern said workers hoped that "people power" would now force An Post to re-think their closure decision.
The protest rally, at 2.30pm next Saturday, will see staff from all Irish mail centres gather at the Grand Parade in Cork to protest at the closure.
Cork mail centre workers were also highly critical of the Communications Workers Union (CWU) and said they hadn't received enough support.
CWU general secretary Steve Fitzpatrick described the closure as "devastating" for the Cork workers.
"This decision was expected over the past two years and since then the uncertainty of future employment has been hanging over all our members' heads in the three provincial centres which has caused huge levels of stress for all concerned."
"Mails centres provide decent, unionised and pensionable employment and they are the type of jobs that are not easy to replace.
"In these difficult circumstances, it is the duty of the union to ensure redeployment options within the company for those who wish to take them up and the best possible exit terms for those who believe the option to leave is best for them."
Mr Ahern said: "We fail to see the necessity of closing a strategically-placed hub when An Post is experiencing a major boom in the parcel market.
"We are calling on An Post and the Government to respect the decision of the Dáil, which voted overwhelmingly last week to support saving the Cork Mail Centre and the jobs."
We fail to see the necessity of closing a strategically-placed hub when An Post is experiencing a major boom in the parcel market. Cork Mail Centre Action Group official John Ahern
Workers said it was "beyond belief" that An Post would close such a centre in Ireland's second city, which is forecast to undergo major population growth over the next 25 years.
But An Post defended the closure as unavoidable given the challenging market it now faces.
Under the planned closure, some 216 jobs of the 240 positions involved at the centre will be cut.
An Post is offering staff involved an exit package of six weeks pay per year of service, up a maximum of two years, pay.
An Post has also offered possible redeployment opportunities within their networks in the Cork area.
"The €11m annual savings from the plant closure will enable An Post to invest more rapidly in its parcels infrastructure nationally, locally, and in the automation of parcel sorting," a spokesperson for An Post said.
"Parcel volumes have grown by 60pc since An Post actively re-entered the parcels market in 2017."
"An Post plans to invest over €15m in parcels infrastructure across Cork city and the wider region over the next three years."
The company said the Cork plant was operating at just 25pc capacity as mail volumes decline by about 7pc per year due to customers moving from letters to parcels and e-commerce.
The planned closure will be phased between September 2019 and March 2020.