Australia Post cuts jobs, avoids privatisation

A community rally against job cuts at Australia Post in February. Photo: cwu.org.au

''This move by Australia Post management to cut 900 jobs is outrageous, coming without any proper consultation with staff and unions,” Joan Doyle, Victorian state secretary of the Communication Workers Union (CWU) told Green Left Weekly on June 10. ''Australia Post CEO Ahmed Fahour is sensationalising supposed losses to attack workers' conditions.

''Australia Post made a $312 million profit last year, paying a big dividend to the government. Now Fahour says Australia Post will not make a profit this year. But this follows a huge investment in new technology into the parcels network, involving an estimated $2 billion over 10 years.

''We are very sceptical of the figures. They are trying to prepare the groundwork for future privatisation of Australia Post.”

According to media reports, most of the 900 proposed job losses will be managerial, administrative and support roles at Australia Post's head office in Melbourne, with some in Sydney and other cities.

Australia Post management is also lobbying the federal government to change Australia Post's community service obligations, which currently require the delivery of standard mail to homes five days a week.

Doyle told Channel 7 News on June 10: ''Without doubt, you can't cut that deeply without affecting customer service. In reality, there should be only one job lost at Australia Post, that of CEO Ahmed Fahour.

''Australia Post is fundamentally a sound business. The government has never had to subsidise it. They are basically fattening the cow now in order to sell it off in the future.''

Doyle told the June 11 Sydney Morning Herald she had been flooded with calls from workers concerned about the future of the business.

''This has not been a consultative approach. And if Australia Post becomes a three-day-a-week delivery business, two-fifths of the posties won't be required and thousands more would be enormously affected.''

Unions have also slammed the exorbitant salary of $4.8 million a year paid to Fahour, a former CEO of the National Australia Bank and Citigroup. This compares to the head of the US Postal Service, who was paid $550,000 last year, despite running a company with 19 times more staff and 11 times the revenue.

Doyle told ABC News on June 11 that the government should not renew Fahour's contract and should cut his pay.

“If we've had to show wage restraint and cop lots of job cuts, we think the least he could do is show a bit of wage restraint,'' she said.

The fact that the federal government has been forced to rule out privatising Australia Post at present is an important win for the public interest. On May 27, federal finance minister Matthias Cormann told the Senate Estimates Committee: ''We have decided not proceed with the sale of Australia Post.”

There is no doubt, however, that the government has long-term ambitions to privatise Australia's iconic publicly owned mail and parcels delivery service as part of its plan to sell all possible public assets to big business. They have clearly decided not to go ahead for now, due partly to the financial status of Australia Post, but also to the massive public opposition such a move would provoke.

With the recent federal budget already facing widespread community hostility, the sell-off of Australia Post might be one step too far at present. The strong push mounted recently by the Hands Off Aussie Post campaign, backed by the CWU, has no doubt influenced the government's decision.

As part of the preparation to make Australia Post more attractive to private investors in any future sale, the government is floating the idea of expanding the organisation's range of services — including delivering some over-the-counter Medicare and Centrelink operations, such as distributing payments or collecting forms.

Despite reported support for these proposals from some senior federal ALP front-benchers, opposition human services spokesperson Senator Doug Cameron said transferring more government responsibilities to Australia Post was ''not a practical proposition,'' the June 9 Sydney Morning Herald reported.

''I don't think there are the skills or capacity in Australia Post to deliver Centrelink or Medicare services,'' he said. Although, the CWU itself has advocated that Australia Post should expand its banking and financial services to become a public bank, competing with the monopolistic Big Four.

The latest job cuts and management's push for change in Australia Post are based on leaked “private modelling” claiming Australia Post will lose $7.1 billion through to 2022-23 if drastic cuts are not made. ''Without change and reform, Australia Post will not be able to survive,'' Fahour told the June 8 Sun-Herald.

This is meant to soften up the community to accept the sale of Australia Post at some time in the future. With its burgeoning parcels business successfully dominating the parcel delivery market in this country, Australia Post is already an overall profitable public enterprise.

Possible expansion of its coverage to include banking and financial services, and other areas like insurance — in direct opposition to the private corporations — could make it a massive government-owned asset, providing significant income to the public purse over the long term.

The union movement and the wider community need to escalate the campaign to keep Aussie Post in public hands, stop the job losses and postal service cutbacks, and build and strengthen Australia Post in the interests of society — not the greedy profiteers.