Post Office bleeds cash from strike

2013-03-31 10:00

The long unprotected strike at the SA PostOffice (Sapo) has cost the company money and customers at a time when it can least afford it.

“The damage is huge,” says Sapo spokesperson Khulani Qoma.

Sapo put the strike-related loss at R97?million this week and an additional overtime bill of at least R6?million as the company scrambles to move the mail that has piled up at Gauteng’s two major sorting centres, Tshwane and Witspos.

The estimated loss stems from customers who found alternatives to Sapo, accelerating the long-term trend of shrinking mail volumes due to the spread of electronic billing and communications.

Sapo’s profit last year was R158?million and that’s after using R323 million’s worth of subsidies from government, which will be dramatically scaled back this year.

The overtime expenses won’t grow more, says Johan Kruger, another Sapo spokesperson.

Tshwane Mail has already caught up with mail deliveries so the extra work has stopped while the larger Witspos, south of Johannesburg, will clear its backlog in two weeks, he says.

The strike started in February after an apparent brazen Ponzi scam, driven by a Sapo employee and at least two collaborators who promised workers a massive payout if they contributed to an alleged lawsuit against Sapo.

Despite being dismissed, strikers are still demanding money.

At the height of the six-week strike, 3 000 of Sapo’s 14 400 employees stayed away, but Qomo says the majority weren’t on strike, but were intimidated into staying away.

Altogether 588 strikers were dismissed on March 22, but they continue to picket at Witspos and demand their money, in addition to reinstatement.

The dismissed strikers have already been replaced, but that arrangement isn’t bedded down yet. “I can’t say if they will be permanently removed,” says Qomo. “Cosatu has become active with them and I can’t say how it’ll end. For now, they remain dismissed.”

Cosatu’s Gauteng leadership is meeting Sapo on Tuesday after meeting the dismissed workers last week.

At this point the federation’s provincial chair, Phutas Tseki, refuses to take a position on the scam. “We don’t want to say it is a scam. No one has presented proof,” he told City Press.

“There is the issue of reinstatement and then there is still the issue of the money.”

At Sapo, “like all over”, there are again independent workers’ committees and complaints of bad service from the Cosatu union organising in the sector, the Communication Workers’ Union, says Tseki.

Three men have been arrested in connection with the scam and appeared in the Commercial Crimes Court last week.

A figure of R400 000 has been mentioned, but it is uncertain how many employees were scammed, or for how much, says Qomo. – Dewald van Rensburg

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