Closure of Cork Mail Centre halt Christmas, workers warn

An Post says company must adapt to ‘new realities’ of postal industry

The closure of the Cork Mail Centre (CMC) could lead to a collapse of the Irish mail system at Christmas while it would also mean people in Cork will not be guaranteed next-day delivery, workers at the centre have warned.

An Post announced last month it plans to close the CMC in Little Island in March 2020 with the loss of over 200 jobs, citing a global trend in a fall in the number of people sending letters.

According to An Post, the CMC is operating at 25 per cent less than capacity as mail volumes decline at a rate of approximately 7 per cent per annum due to customers moving from letters to e-mails.

But the CMC Action Group disputed these figures and said the huge increase in parcels coming through the centre as more people shop online means there is sufficient business to keep the centre open.

CMC Action Group member Donal Desmond told a press briefing in Cork on Tuesday the entire mail system in the Republic nearly came to a halt last Christmas such was the volume of mail and parcels it handled.

“Last Christmas, the whole postal system in the 26 counties came close to collapse. It started in October but the week before Christmas it nearly ground to a halt such was the volume of mail and parcels.

"We had trucks queuing up to unload and closing Cork is going to put even greater pressure on the system because Cork took the overflow from the other centres, especially Dublin and Portlaoise, " he said.

Other staff members claimed that the CMC had to turn away parcel business such was the volume of parcels coming through the centre, which handled 40 trucks from Amazon alone last Christmas.

Contacted by The Irish Times, An Post said the company “must adapt to the new realities of the postal industry by shrinking unneeded letter facilities and growing parcel facilities - in the right locations.”

“It’s simply not sustainable to retain letter processing operations for which there is no longer a need - the letter volumes just aren’t there anymore.

“Traditional letter volumes have halved in the last decade and there is ample capacity in the other hubs to handle letter processing currently done in the Cork Mails Centre.”

Another CMC Action Group member, Norma Creech, warned of the threat that closure of the Cork centre would pose to next-day delivery in Cork city and county as all mail would be sent to Portlaoise to be sorted.

“If you post your letter in Cork, say, in the county, it has to go all the way up to Portlaoise to be redistributed and sent back down to Cork. It makes no sense if you are trying to guarantee next day delivery.”

Mr Desmond said he feared that the decision to close the CMC was “politically taken” with the ultimate aim of privatising the service to cater for the rapidly expanding parcel post market.

“When the dust has settled on this in six months time, there is nothing to stop them opening a privately run parcel hub in Cork where casual staff will be employed for minimum pay and no terms and conditions.”

CMC Action Group spokesman John Ahern said while An Post flagged a generous redundancy package, the opposite was the case with those over 60 facing the prospect of getting less than younger colleagues.

He explained those under 60 years of age were entitled to six weeks pay per year of service whereas those over 60 were on a sliding scale based on their age and the type of social security stamps they paid.

“Anyone between 60 and 61 has their severance capped at 18 months pay while those between 61 and 62 have it capped at 15 months compared to anyone under 60 getting six weeks pay per year of service.

“So for someone aged 59 now, who is about to turn 60, it could mean a difference of €20,000 to €30,000 depending on their service so anyone in that situation will have next to no choice in the matter,” he said.

Mr Ahern said that CMC Action Group is staging a protest march in Cork on Saturday to highlight their plight and urged all An Post employees and others to join the march and show solidarity with them.

He said workers hoped that “people power” in the form of a large turnout on Saturday in Cork would encourage An Post to re-think their closure decision and he urged local politicians to support to their case.

Cork North Central Solidarity TD Mick Barry said the planned closure of the CMC ignored the huge growth in parcel business and he suggested An Post might look at what is happening in other countries.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times