Staff concerns raised after main post office is sold off in franchising deal
5th September 2019
THE main post office in Tunbridge Wells has been sold off to a franchise company, leaving 11 members of staff worried about their futures.
The Five Ways Post Office is one of a number of branches switched to franchise deals in recent years.
Post Office Ltd, which remains state-owned since it split from the now privatised Royal Mail in 2013, has come in for heavy criticism following the moves.
Unions have called it a ‘privatisation agenda’ with the CWU [Communication Workers Union] saying franchised companies often pay workers less than workers in state-owned branches.
Although the site itself in Tunbridge Wells will remain owned by the Post Office, the business has been bought by independent franchising partner, ZCO, which takes over in November.
ZCO run a number of other main branch post offices up and down the country.
Head of the ‘Directly Managed Network’ for the Post Office, Steve Blampied, said that the change was ‘the best way to secure Post Office services at this location’.
In a letter to staff and customers of the Five Ways branch he said that the decision stemmed from the ‘unprecedented changes on our high streets and the challenges facing many retailers’.
He said: “The needs of our customers are evolving too. Our priority is to provide secure and commercially sustainable services in all communities.
“The vast majority of our 11,500 Post Office Branches, large and small, are already successfully operated by independent franchisees.”
He added: “While the decision to proceed will have already been made, we will welcome suggestions about specific aspects of the change such as access arrangements and the internal layout.”
Among the changes planned for the branch is the extension of opening hours from 9am to 5.30pm on Monday to Saturday, making the services newly available on Saturday afternoons.
In addition to this, the layout will include low level service counters, PIN pads and hearing loops, as well as two self-service kiosks.
However, local councillors say staff at the branch are naturally worried about their future.
James Rands, Liberal Democrat councillor for Culverden, said while the franchise operators have assured him that current services will be maintained, he added: “I am not happy and no one I have spoken to is.
“Of course we are all concerned about what happens next especially as to whether they will maintain the same staffing levels. The reality is that Royal Mail is a commercial entity now and will do what it views as in its commercial interests.”
A spokesperson for Post Office said employees will be kept ‘fully informed’ of any staffing changes, saying: “Regular visitors to the Five Ways branch will no doubt know the branch team as friends and want to know they are being supported through these changes. We care about our people and we have kept the team fully informed of their options.”
He added that employees had rights over the transfer of their employment, and opportunities for redeployment or voluntary settlement.