The Post Office: The Workforce: Sell-off 'threatens 50,000 postal jobs': Union leader fears the kind of huge staff cuts seen after other privatisations

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LEADERS OF 160,000 postal workers yesterday warned that the Government's privatisation proposals could lead to the loss of 50,000 jobs in the service.

Alan Johnson, general secretary of the Union of Communication Workers, forecast that 27,000 of his members would face redundancy at Royal Mail because of the 'inevitable' abolition of the second postal delivery. He predicted that further jobs would be lost from Parcel Force because of the probable imposition of VAT on its prices would mean lower 'traffic'.

Post Office management had already warned that 5,000 rural offices, each employing two or three people, were under threat. Despite the fact that the counters division was to remain in public ownership, 25 per cent of its transactions came from Royal Mail and Parcel Force and thousands more jobs were therefore under threat. About 1,800 such offices had small delivery units attached to them which would also be vulnerable, the union said.

In an article for the Independent today Mr Johnson says the plan to split up the Post Office would destroy the synergy between the different elements of the organisation and would have a particular impact on rural sites.

He argues that no one in the corporation at any level supports the plan to break it up. He believes that signals of approval coming from management are artificial.

Mr Johnson's warning about privatisation is based on the experience of other union leaders. All privatisations have resulted in considerable cutbacks.

When British Telecom was sold off in 1984 it employed more than 240,000 people. Now under private control, despite remaining Britain's largest private sector employer, BT's workforce is down to 155,000 with plans to cut a further 15,000 this financial year. Unquantified reductions are promised thereafter.

Before British Gas was sold off in 1986 it employed 90,000 people, but management are currently warning that the workforce will have to be reduced to 40,500 by the end of 1998. The steel industry has been severely reduced and coal has followed the same path even before it is sold off.

While under the strategy for the Post Office indicated by Michael Heseltine, President of the Board of Trade, the privatisation will only be partial, postal workers believe they could still suffer large-scale job losses.

Mr Johnson said his members are also worried about their terms and conditions of employment, especially the security of their pension fund.

Leading article, page 21

Stamping out a service, page 22