TNT, the Netherlands: Redeployment, training and development
TNT is an international private post and logistics company that also owns TPG Post BV, which is the successor of the former Dutch public post organisation. TNT is the largest private employer in the Netherlands, employing 60,301 people as of September 2005; in May 2005, 58,069 were employed by TPG Post. Employees come under three different collective labour agreements: the general TNT agreement covering regular postal delivery workers and workers at the mail sorting centres; a specific agreement for Saturday postal delivery workers; and another specific agreement for mail delivery workers. These agreements are negotiated by TNT and the trade unions.
The gender composition of TPG Post’s workforce varies considerably: 70% of the mail delivery workers are female, whereas regular postal delivery workers are mainly male. In all, 36% of the employees are female. A total of 38% of the workforce is over 45 years of age and 67% work part time. Workforce numbers are shrinking, primarily because of technological changes leading to decreased demand for postal services. Between 2000 and 2013, a yearly workforce reduction of 2.5% is expected, which strongly affects the personnel policy.
The company aims at good labour relations, in which restructuring is made without forced dismissals and according to a long-term planning procedure. However, there is now less emphasis on early retirement policies, because government regulations have meant an increase in the cost of early retirement. In 2003, TPG Post was granted the ‘Investors in People’ certificate, indicating an adequate personnel policy.
The original initiative
TPG Post has had an age-aware personnel policy since the early 1990s, established as part of the Collective Labour Agreement. The policy is aimed at eliminating barriers so that ageing employees can continue to participate in the workforce. An early retirement arrangement existed alongside this policy that enabled workers to leave the workforce at 62 years, or sometimes even as early as 54 years.
The existing age-related measures were tied to concerns about the continual workforce downsizing and increased economic competition at TPG/TNT. Furthermore, government regulations mean that the exit of workers before reaching pensionable age has become more expensive. At the same time, work at TNT entails difficulties primarily for older workers, because the tasks become more physically demanding with age. A comprehensive approach was initiated to focus on sickness absence, work adjustments and mobility. Such an approach is transferable as a response to particular socio-economic and internal conditions.
Good practice today
Since TNT’s workforce is shrinking, the company manages this by investing in internal, but also external, mobility. Human resource (HR) policies also address the physically demanding nature of postal delivery, which primarily affects older workers. An age-group approach was initially explicitly present in the relief measures for workers over 55 years of age, but these measures became untenable as government regulations prohibit age discrimination at work. Therefore, the aim is to reduce sickness absenteeism by introducing technological changes, training and a set of rules regulating absenteeism and re-employment. A programme called ‘Organising Differently’ (Anders Organiseren) enables a more feasible mix of workers at local level.
Organising Differently is an arrangement allowing local units to design their own work schedules, taking into account various personal conditions and capacities. A step-by-step framework is developed by management and the works council of the post distribution department. Local units can now organise a feasible workplace mix of older, younger, full-time and part-time employees, e.g. experienced older workers may share a schedule with younger workers with greater physical capacities. The approach is based on the knowledge and experience of postal workers on the shop floor. Various pilot projects have been conducted. The Organising Differently approach will be deployed at national level in three years’ time.
The problem of absenteeism is partly addressed by the introduction of a technological change called BAKS, the so-called ‘post container delivery and tilting system’ that places the parcels in sorting machines. Due to the introduction of BAKS, sorting employees no longer have to manually place the parcels in the machine, which greatly reduces the risk of complaints of back, arm and shoulder problems. New rules regulating absenteeism were introduced that prescribe quicker and more frequent contact between the absent employee and the company, and the intensification of contact between the line manager, company doctor, company health service and employee. As a result, the sickness absence level at TNT declined from 6.3% in 2001 to 5% in 2003. Although sickness absence among older workers is not higher than absence among younger workers, the average duration of sickness is longer. Therefore, the new regulations primarily affect older workers.
Various arrangements supporting internal and external mobility have been introduced, which are administered by an internal department called JobConsult. JobConsult offers support to employees who become redundant because of downsizing. Since downsizing can no longer be facilitated by early retirement arrangements, an effort to increase labour mobility is required. As a result of these efforts, the number of employees over 55 years of age who have left the company while receiving financial compensation has been reduced. JobConsult offers a comprehensive approach, in which employees’ capacities and preferences are assessed, additional training is offered, and employees are assisted when applying for other jobs, internally or externally. TNT seeks cooperation with other organisations that may be willing to engage former postal workers. The well-respected image of the workers helps in this effort. Organisations seeking trustworthy employees, e.g. the police, utility companies searching for meter readers, etc, prove willing to hire former postal delivery workers. Up to 31 December 2005, an exit arrangement existed on the basis of which employees leaving the company could claim a bonus – depending on age, date of exit and duration of contract – of up to 2.5 to three years of pay.
The exit and replacement arrangements are subject to the consent of the trade unions. The other arrangements are being implemented by the company under trade union and works council consultation.
Over time, existing policies were affected by the continual workforce downsizing and increased economic competition at TNT. In addition, rising costs precluded early exit options, while, at the same time, it was recognised that continuing employment until 65 years of age is difficult due to the demanding working conditions in the postal sector.
With regard to future prospects, a growing emphasis on prevention and external mobility can be expected. TNT also realises that measures involving age discrimination should be avoided. This includes relief measures for older workers based on age and remaining early retirement arrangements. The effect that these changes will have is currently unclear for the company. It is suggested that a study is carried out on this issue. There is also a continuing need to reduce costs in order to stay in line with competitors’ cost levels.
- Eekman, Senior Consultant, Employment Conditions and Industrial Relations
- Collectieve arbeidsovereenkomst voor TPG 2004–2005. Bijlage II, Leeftijdsbewust personeelsbelei, [Collective labour agreement for TPG 2004–2005, Appendix II, Age-aware personnel policies], The Hague, 2004.
- Werkgeversbrief CAO-overleg. 1 September 2005 [Employer’s letter Collective Labour Agreement negotiations. 1 September 2005], in TNT, caokrant [Newspaper on the CLA negotiations], The Hague, 2005.
- Mensenwerk. Sociaal jaarverslag 2003 [Manual labour. Social annual report 2003], The Hague, 2004.