SUBJECTS: Memorandum of Understanding between Australia Post and the CEPU; Labor’s Senate Inquiry into the Government’s changes to Australia’s Post delivery standards.
LEON DELANEY, HOST: A decision by Australia Post to make changes to its delivery schedule for letters and of course the union involved – the CEPU – were concerned that this was possibly the thin edge of the wedge and opening the door for possible job cuts down the lines. In fact, the union was very concerned about that possibility. The latest news today is that an agreement has been reached between Australia Post and the Union which guarantees jobs and memorandum of understanding involving these commitment is valid until August next year. Joining me now is the Shadow Minister for Communications, Michelle Rowland. Good afternoon.


DELANEY: Thanks for joining us today. Of course, the people of Australia Post have said all along that jobs are not going to be lost. Why was it necessary to sign an MOU to convince the union of this?

ROWLAND: Well, I think the result speaks for itself. The fact that we’ve got this agreement today demonstrates that there was a significant concern and a very genuine one. It’s a welcome development and a really significant outcome for the workers and let’s look at the counterfactual: if we didn’t have the scrutiny being applied through the Parliamentary process and the representatives of those workers, then we would have thousands of postal workers across the country heading into Christmas with their jobs and income in doubt. So, we thought that this was unnecessary and [inaudible], and I’ve said from the beginning: we should be using the parcels boom to preserve and create jobs, not cut jobs, so this is certainly a welcome development.

DELANEY: This is certainly the confusing thing about the whole process. Of course, as you say there’s a parcels boom that’s been taking place and of course during the pandemic lockdown more people than ever before turned to online shopping for all sorts of things, so you would expect that the services of Australia Post would be more in demand than ever before and that is the case. But their demand for their letter delivery service hasn’t experienced the same boom has it?

ROWLAND: Well, letters have been on the decline for many years now and that’s certainly no secret. But let’s also be very clear: around half a postie’s daily workload is parcels and packets-based. So, we don’t have a situation where you’ve suddenly got posties delivering only letters. About half of it is those small parcels and packets. But when you’ve got a situation where Australia Post is actually growing as a result of COVID, you’ve got their revenues certainly going up when many sectors of the economy are going backwards, you should be looking at this and saying this is an opportunity to leverage off what is a really remarkable government business enterprise. And under the changes from Australia Post’s own documents, we saw that one in four posties had no role in the new delivery model which cuts delivery frequency in half. So, we considered this to be completely unacceptable and [inaudible] and we should be using this to grow the business, not to contract it.

DELANEY: Yeah, one of the things that has confused me is the fact that you’ve pointed to that most of the time posties are going around doing their rounds with a sack full of letters but also packets and parcels as well. If they are going to be delivering the parcels away, why can’t they take the letters with them?

ROWLAND: [inaudible] posties, as we said, are not only delivering letters, they’ve got those parcels and packets. But you’ve also, as you rightly point out, we’ve got more parcels than ever, not only as a result of COVID and the shift to e-commerce, but people’s habits are not going to change and they are ordering things that are heavier – that is a fact as well. Whilst we have people in the delivery chain, we had no certainty for people who were in transportation and processing for example – those who were indirectly impacted by halving what we call thatlast mile delivery frequency – there was no certainty for them, but under this agreement, we do have certainty and a commitment to not cut the jobs of those employees. So, again, a great outcome.

DELANEY: Yeah, so, are we still going to see the temporary imposition of a reduced service for letter delivery?

ROWLAND: Well, that is currently in place because the regulation came into place some months ago now. We’ve got a situation where letters in metro areas are being delivered every second day until June 30 next year. We also have intrastate letters going from three to five days, priority mail letter products being removed. And certainly we need to look at what this means for consumers which is why tomorrow, coincidentally, we have the first Senate hearing into these regulations and we’ll be monitoring this very closely.

DELANEY: Yeah, well, I was going to mention that the Senate inquiry begins tomorrow. What are you hoping to achieve in the Senate inquiry?

ROWLAND: Well, mainly two things. Firstly, we want to know the impact of the reduction in service delivery, but also we want to understanding what this does mean long term [inaudible] for those jobs. I said it was very pleasing that we’ve now got that certainty going forward for the next twelve months and I think Australians have the right to understand what happens beyond that as well. As has been pointed out, these changes are meant to be temporary. But if you’re making structural changes, they are virtually impossible to undo so we need to understand what that means.

DELANEY: Yeah, absolutely. And of course I remember when the official slogan or motto for Australia Post was “we deliver”. Now of course we need to change it to “we deliver – every second day”.

ROWLAND: Well, there you go.

DELANEY: Michelle, thank you for your time today.

ROWLAND: Always a pleasure.

DELANEY: Michelle Rowland is the Shadow Minister for Communications and Member for Greenway.