Post Office reform that will see a reduction in deliveries and changes to workers’ pensions was backed by Tynwald this week – but only after startling criticism from some quarters.

The board came under sustained attack in Tynwald as Post Office chairman Julie Edge they sought support for proposed pension changes and reductions in deliveries.

In criticism unusual for its ferocity, members of the Post Office’s sponsoring government department stood to openly challenge claims of co-operation.

Department for Enterprise member Lawrie Hooper accused the Post Office board of being selective to the point of misleading in terms of the information it had provided over the options available.

He described the board’s approach as ’opaque and unhelpful’.

Both he and fellow department member Rob Callister (Onchan) rejected a claim from Ms Edge that Post Office board had worked ’collaboratively’ with the department. That was later backed up by Tim Crookall MLC.

Ms Edge seemed on the ropes during the first half of the debate, but the lunch break appeared to come at the right time, with support arriving from Treasury Minister Alfred Cannan in the afternoon.

The debate was conducted in the shadow of possible strike action today by members of the Communication Workers Union today (Thursday) and tomorrow over changes to terms and conditions.

Ms Edge sought Tynwald approval to make changes to the pension scheme – closing the current scheme to any new employees and offering a defined contribution scheme in its place.

She also wanted backing to reduce the number of letter deliveries from six days a week to five and to carry out a full review of post office retail services.

But she said no compulsory redundancies were planned.

Ms Edge told Tynwald members: ’The decision you make today will impact everyone at the Isle of Man Post Office, not just postal workers.

’To do nothing is not an option.’

The recommendations were ’fundamental to the future success of the business’, she argued, pointing to a £1.2 million loss on the retail network and increases in pension contributions.

Describing the government’s own digital strategy as having ’catastrophic’ impact on parts of the Post Office business, she said: ’Isle of Man Post Office must change and modernise if it’s to have a chance of surviving’

Tim Baker (Ayre and Michael) accused the Post Office board of showing no vision.

He tabled an amendment that would add to the Post Office’s recommendations that the board be required to ’develop a sustainable vision’ including enhanced services, and in the meantime ’maintain the size and scope of the Isle of Man Post Office’.

Another amendment was tabled, by Alex Allinson (Ramsey), that would have made the offer of the defined contribution scheme for new members a voluntary one and require the board to ’negotiate with all employees and their representatives as appropriate to make changes to the existing scheme to ensure its long-term sustainability and affordability’.

It would also have changed change the recommendation to reduce letter deliveries to five days to ask the Post Office to bring forward proposals that ’may include’ the five-days option.

Dr Allinson’s amendment sought to reaffirm the Post Office’s position as a universal public service provider and call upon a ’vision’ to keep it part of the community and deliver enhanced services.

Both these amendments were rejected, along with another by Kate Lord-Brennan MLC requiring the Post Office board to work with the Council of Ministers to develop a ’vision’ including the role of community hubs.

Daphne Caine (Garff), another DfE member, also voiced her concern.

’Is the post office a public service or a business?’ she asked. ’Did we knock on the head corporatisation only to get it by the back door?

’Shall public workers with outdated terms and conditions, that managers have neglected to update for 24 years, be penalised because for once in its history, [the Post Office] made a loss?’

But Treasury Minister Alfred Cannan backed Ms Edge and also directed criticism at CWU leader Terry Pullinger and the threat of strike action.

He said: ’Sometimes we need to make difficult decisions.’

He said he board was not trying to denigrate terms and conditions and dilute pension arrangements.

’Mr Pullinger is calling for strikes,’ he said. ’We should be calling for action that’s in the best interests of postal workers.’

He said closing the pension scheme to new entrants would protect the future of existing postal workers. ’Keeping the scheme open does them no favours whatsoever.’

The Post Office recommendation to introduce pension changes was carried 15-8 in the Keys and 5-3 in the Legislative Council. The reduction in letter delivery days from six to five was approved 18-5 in the Keys and 7-1 in the upper chamber.

A vote on the overall set of recommendations, which also included that the Post Office continues to be self-funding and that it works on the ’format of the delivery of retail services’, was then passed 15-8 in the Keys and 5-3 in LegCo.

Source: IoMToday