IO Systems, the company at the centre of the postal dispute, promotes itself with the slogan, ‘Conveying Smart Solutions’, writes Caroline O’Doherty
Its chief adversary, the Communications Workers Union (CWU), does exactly what its name suggests.
But if there was ever a failure of communications and a dearth of smart solutions, the halting of the national postal service that resulted from the two locking horns is a prime example.
The row was brewing for two-and-a-half years, ever since IO Systems had its contract renewed for maintaining the automated mail sorting machines at An Post’s main mail centres.
Mail volumes had fallen significantly since the previous contract, probably the inevitable result of recession, competition, and the usurping by email and smartphones of the traditional role of the letter.
Weekend work was no longer needed and IO Systems set about redrawing rosters to fit a Monday-Friday model. Hours were cut, shifts changed, some workers moved from weekends to weekdays and others from nights to days.
Without the overtime and shift premiums that had become standard under the previous arrangement, earnings were set for a fall of 6%-9% for most of the 36 workers affected and by 22% for three of them. The CWU, which had been involved in cost-cutting talks in 2010 resulting in pay being reduced by about 2% and shift premiums by about 4%, was not in the mood for accepting any further slides.
A trip to the Labour Relations Commission followed, plus three outings in the Labour Court, plus third-party mediation but no agreement on the implementation of the new arrangements was reached.
Then in February, the Labour Court issued a non-binding recommendation for resolving the dispute which appears to have given IO Systems the nod to go ahead with the new rosters.
The CWU again signalled it would not accept the proposed changes. IO Systems went ahead with implementing the new rosters last month but its workers stuck to the old rosters so they were at work at times when there was no work for them.
When that was reflected in their pay packets, the CWU gave strike notice and from midnight last Thursday night/Friday morning, the strike began.
Less than 12 hours later, it was no longer a dispute involving IO Systems and 36 workers represented by the CWU, but a brawl between IO Systems, the CWU, An Post, potentially 9,500 postal staff, and just about every person, business and organisation in the country.
An Post issued a warning to the public at 11.30am on Friday not to post anything, saying it couldn’t accept post without knowing if it could be processed on time.
The CWU said the suspension was unnecessary as much of the mail was sorted manually and the An Post workers it represents would sort all mail by hand until the dispute was resolved.
IO Systems said neither action was necessary as the sorting machines were all in working order and its own management and some technicians it flew in from its parent company in Japan were on hand if needed to carry out maintenance work.
So did An Post over-react, was the CWU overly simplistic, and were IO Systems overly optimistic? And what is it that’s bringing them to the talks table today?
Did Government intervene to help restore the peace — and postal services — and if so, was it for the sake of business, law, the health services and society at large or was it so that we all get our polling cards in time?
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