Social dialogue in postal services leads to agreement on promoting employment

The nature of and delivery of postal services has changed significantly over the past decade as a result of technological changes and changes in consumer demands. This has had a significant impact on the nature and volume of employment in the sector. In response to these challenges, the EU-level social partners in postal services signed in October 1998 a framework agreement on the promotion of employment in the sector, which aims to improve working conditions, enhance consultative arrangements and ensure that employees are able to adapt to technological developments.

Postal services in the EU

The nature of the organisation and delivery of postal services in the European Union has undergone significant restructuring over the last decade, partly as a result of technological changes and changes in consumer demand, and partly as a result of changes in the national and transnational policy environment. The latter changes led to a degree of liberalisation in relation to certain aspects of the provision of postal services. With the exception of Sweden and Finland, all Member States retain a single public sector operator, enjoying a monopoly over certain retained services. However, there are an increasing number of more or less specialised private sector providers operating in this area. These private providers have been able to secure a substantial share of the high value-added services market not covered by the post office monopoly and have been particularly successful in establishing high-quality, high-reliability operations in door-to-door delivery services.

At the same time, post offices have also expanded their range of services and have invested heavily in improving their services in order to compete. In terms of the future of the market for postal services, it is anticipated that modern information and communications technology will continue to reduce demand for more traditional postal services. Demand for express deliveries, targeted mail-shots and transfrontier mailing services is likely to remain stable or increase.

Overall employment in the sector is estimated at around 1.5 million, thus making it one of the key sectors for employment in the Union. Currently, the majority of employees work for public sector operators. Their number is, however, declining in comparison with the workforces of private providers. Employment in the sector is very diverse in terms of trades and skill levels, demonstrating the potential capacity of this sector to absorb individuals from different educational backgrounds. The nature of the work also implies a need for night, weekend and holiday work, with a number of significant seasonal ebbs and flows.

Post offices are widely noted for the crucial service their provide to the more remote regions and more disadvantaged individuals in society. There are therefore calls for the retention of a strong universal postal service, within the context of a framework of liberalisation.

The EU postal services sector is significantly affected by the policies of DGIV (competition) and DGXV (internal market) of the European Commission. The Commission perceives a number of problems in the way postal services operate in relation to the quality of service provided, the lack of harmonisation, disparities between services and resulting distortions of competition. In the early 1990s, the Commission therefore issued a Green Paper on the development of the single market for postal services, followed by a Communication on common rules for the development of postal services and a Resolution on the development of postal services in February 1994. In July 1995, the Commission presented a draft Directive on the development of Community postal services (adopted in December 1997) and a draft Communication on the application of competition rules to the postal sector. With the adoption of this legislative and policy framework, the Commission has pursued the establishment of a liberalised framework for an internal market with a number of retained activities for public monopolies. Commission policy in this area has been the main preoccupation of the sectoral social dialogue within the framework of the Joint Committee on Postal Services, which was set up by a Commission Decision in July 1994.

The social partners

On the employers' side, members of the Joint Committee are made up of representatives of public and private sector operators from the different Member States. Workers' interests are represented by two international trade union federations, representing different ideological and historical traditions:

  • the Communications International (CI) - formerly the Postal, Telegraph and Telephone International, PTTI) is an International Trade Secretariat associated with the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU). It has approximately 4.6 million members in some 260 affiliated trade unions from 120 countries around the world and represents workers in areas such as postal services, postal banking, telecommunications and radio. In Europe, PTTI claims some 1.6 million members in around 70 affiliated unions. In the original composition of the Joint Committee, CI appointed 20 out of 27 union representatives; and
  • the European Federation of Employees in Public Services (Eurofedop) is the European organisation of the International Federation of Employees in Public Services (Infedop), an International Trade Federation affiliated to the World Confederation of Labour (WCL). Eurofedop groups Christian and democratic public sector trade unions based in Europe. In the original composition of the Joint Committee, Eurofedop appointed four out of 27 union representatives

Since its inception in 1994, the Joint Committee on Postal Services has primarily focused its discussions around Commission policies in relation to the development of a single market for postal services, technological and regulatory developments and their impact on jobs, competition policy and the definition of reserved services. Among the joint texts reached in the dialogue are opinions on:

As with all the other sectoral Joint Committees, the Joint Committee on Postal Services is soon to be restructured as a "sectoral dialogue committee", under the terms of Commission Decision 98/500/EC of 20 May 1998 (EU9806110F).

Framework agreement on promoting employment

Liberalisation and restructuring in the postal services sector, as well as the application of new technologies, have not failed to have an impact on employment, with a significant number of jobs lost over the last decade, and this trend set to continue. A recent study of employment trends in the European postal sector, carried out by Price Waterhouse at the request of the Commission, foresees trends which could lead to a loss of 450,000 jobs over a period of 10 years between 1995-2005. In order to address these challenges, the social partners, within the framework of Joint Committee on Postal Services, drafted a framework agreement on the promotion of employment in the sector. The text was agreed at a meeting of the Joint Committee on 26 March 1998 with the support of the European-level trade union federations and of the employers from Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal, Spain and the UK. The official signing of the text took place in connection with a conference of the Joint Committee on 29 October 1998.

The stated aims of the agreement on on Promoting employment in the postal sector in Europe are to:

  • improve working conditions in the industry;
  • boost consultation;
  • to ensure that jobs and organisations adapt to meet the changing requirements of users and technology.

In order to help guarantee lasting employment in the sector, representatives of employees and management undertake - in Clause 1 of the agreement - to:

  • promote measures to improve the quality of the service throughout Europe;
  • "modernise work organisation, based on principles corresponding to and in compliance with the European social model, including safeguarding job security";
  • develop new services to cater for needs and consumer demand, ensure the economic success of the industry and help create new jobs
  • maintain a certain level of recruitment amongst young people;
  • encourage and develop employees' skills by offering them training, retraining and lifelong learning; and
  • "pursue opportunities for the general reduction of working hours, together with flexibility, to improve the conditions for leave for family care, educational purposes and beneficial retirement arrangements".

Clause 2 calls upon employers to seek to enforce the non-discrimination principle so as to ensure equal access to job opportunities, pay and working conditions for men and women. It is to be ensured that a person cannot be excluded from recruitment, and no employee can be sanctioned or dismissed, because of his or her race, gender, sexual orientation, political opinions, union membership, religious beliefs or disability.

As it is widely believed that a good working environment should be "the vehicle for wellbeing and balance" in people's professional activities, Clause 3 calls for efforts to be made to prevent occupational hazards and to obtain suitable health protection at work by:

  • examining, in detail, the various types or work and the difficulties they involve; and
  • increasing people's awareness of issues relating to correct working methods and providing training in the use of suitable equipment as well as in hygiene and safety.

In Clause 4, the social partners underline their commitment to begin discussions which could lead to an agreement on "social minimum standards" for postal employees in the EU, in keeping with the laws and practices in the various Member States.

Clause 5 argues that the technological, commercial and structural developments experienced by the postal sector are leading to changes in work organisation and working conditions. The social partners therefore agree that changes should be made only after consulting the trade unions and that new methods of organising work and changes in working conditions should be based on agreements with the unions.

At European level, the social partners insist on the need for the European Commission to support and promote social dialogue at sectoral level in the framework of the Joint Committee on Postal Services and its respective working groups. Within the framework of the Joint Committee, the partners will seek to establish a "bargaining frame" in order to reach, with the help of European institutions, agreements on programmes that will enable and allow employees in postal undertakings to keep up with the technological and commercial developments the sector is undergoing.

The social partners agree in Clause 6 to support studies and analysis of the different factors involved in new organisation of work, notably:

  • vocational training, retraining and education opportunities;
  • activities promoting the principle of lifelong education;
  • employment and working conditions in all postal operators, firstly in private postal companies
  • health and safety at the workplace
  • equal opportunities for workers in the industry; and
  • workers' participation in company affairs

Commentary

The framework agreement signed by the social partners in the framework of the Joint Committee for Postal Services is wide-ranging in content and contains many innovative ideas to be discussed at the European and national levels. They include a review of training and work organisation, as well as possible reductions in working time in order to safeguard or create employment. The agreement opens up the possibility of an agreement on minimum standards for postal employees in the EU, in compliance with the laws and practices of each Member State. Every year the signatories will review the agreement "in order to further develop the progressive nature of the philosophy contained herein". The agreement may be extended to include more social partners in the postal sector. The results and conclusion of this process will be published and distributed as a report of the Committee. (Tina Weber, ECOTEC Research and Consulting)

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