Post Office workers fear for future as lay-offs loom

Workers at the Bishopsgate Post Office in central Durban have painted a bleak picture when describing the declining state of the national postal service. Picture: Doctor Ngcobo/African News Agency(ANA)

Workers at the Bishopsgate Post Office in central Durban have painted a bleak picture when describing the declining state of the national postal service. Picture: Doctor Ngcobo/African News Agency(ANA)

Published Feb 19, 2023


Durban - As the shedding of around 6 000 jobs looms large at the South African Post Office (Sapo), workers of the state-owned enterprise (SOE) are worried about how they will survive.

Speaking to the Sunday Tribune this week, several workers at the Bishopsgate post office in Durban Central confirmed that staff morale was at an all-time low. They listed poor working conditions, a decline in the SOE’s finances and a chasm between top level management and employees at branches across the country as among the reasons.

Workers, who spoke on the condition of anonymity as they feared for their already threatened jobs, have also blamed politics for the state of the post office. One employee, who has worked for the post office for the past 20 years said they only became aware of the impending retrenchments in January.

“We haven’t received any Section 189 letters (notice of retrenchment). “Towards the end of last year, we had been told of plans to cut our salaries by 40% and while we were still shocked by that, we are now hearing talks of the Section 189 process. “If you say you are going to cut 40% of the salary of someone who is earning close to nothing, how do you expect that person to live? “We are still waiting for our unions, to see how they handle this.

“The reality is that this is a painful situation.” He said that as a married man, being retrenched would destroy his family. He would not be able to provide for his school-going children.

Another employee, with nine years of service, said the post office had become politicised which resulted in its downfall. “There were promises of a turnaround strategy, but we have never seen that happening.

“Instead, we have seen a downturn in the fortunes of branches nationally. “They take decisions for us at the top, yet they don’t understand the situation on the ground at the branches,” the employee said.

He said they were shocked by former Post Office CEO Mark Barnes’ proposal to Communications and Digital Communications Minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni to lead a consortium that would buy a stake of the Post Office in a public-private partnership arrangement. “There is plenty of business for the Post Office. People come in here for a variety of services, including their R350 grants, but there are ambitions to privatise the Post Office.

“Privatising the Post Office will hurt us because whoever comes in will hire their own people; that’s how the private sector works. “Those deciding this should really think of the impact on people’s lives,” the employee said.

Post Office spokesperson Johan Kruger said they were in consultation with labour unions. Kruger said unions were notified in November of their plans to retrench workers.

“Prior to that, there have been a number of engagements with all unions recognised at Sapo, considering and exploring the various options to reduce the high cost of employment.

These engagements still continue. “The Post Office is obliged to take these steps for reasons of cost. “The Post Office has been successful in cutting other costs, reducing expenses to 25% below budget.

“However, the salary cost makes up 68% of total expenditure and needs to be addressed urgently,” said Kruger. He said that the Post Office had last posted a profit in 2004. The decline in its financial position began as far back as 2006 while the economic recession in 2008 and the widespread adoption of smartphones accelerated the decline.

The Post Office recorded a net loss of around R2.1 billion in the 2021/2022 financial year which ended in March 2022. Kruger said that the Post Office’s decline was down to several factors, including the fact that government business wasn’t given to the Post Office. “Courier companies have been encroaching on the reserved area for years (any parcel up to 1kg is by law reserved for Sapo).

Icasa challenged them on that, and courier companies took them to court. The case is still ongoing, while courier companies continue to benefit in that space,” said Kruger.

He added that another reason for the financial decline was the post-retirement medical aid (PRMA) benefits. “Although the PRMA benefits were stopped in 2005, the liability of those who were already in the system is very high. Over the last 11 years, Sapo has covered these PRMA benefits to the tune of R1.3 billion,” said Kruger.

Communication Workers Union secretary-general Aubrey Tshabalala this week called for urgent state intervention, including a financial injection, this week. “The union remains opposed to the plan to retrench workers, particularly when it is clear that business prospects are greater. It is unfortunate that the postal and courier market space has been opened for multinational companies to the disadvantage of the SOE and the people of this country.

“In recent times, we have witnessed how our people are suffering with a closure of a number of SAPO offices in the country and the multitude of poor people being unable to access their social grants payments,” Tshabalala said.