In February 2008, the Council of the Member States and the European Parliament accepted the proposal of the Commission for a 3rd Postal Directive. The Directive provides a time frame according to which the full market opening of the postal sector has to be completed by 31st December 2010 (for some EU Member States by the end of 2012).
The postal services within the EU are subject to the 1997 Postal Services Directive. This Directive created a regulatory framework, which gradually restricted the so-called “reserved area”. This originally concerned items weighing less than 350 g, following the amendment of 2002, items weighing less than 100 g and since 1.1.2006, items weighing less than 50 g. Now the 3rd Postal Directive shall fully liberalise/deregulate also the reserved area for letters weighing less than 50 g. Only a major effort by the European Parliament made it possible that the start of the full liberalisation was postponed to the beginning of 2011, given the fact that the European Commission had tried in its original draft to push through the full market opening at the beginning of 2009 already.

The Postal Directive also requests that the Commission has to report every 2 years to the Member States and the European Parliament, specifying the results of the post liberalisation. These reports are not only concerned with technical aspects such as the competitive situation, but also with social factors, employment aspects and the quality of the services. This report has been presented in Brussels last week.

What is interesting is the fact that individual parts of the report interpret facts in different ways. Whilst the summary of the report under the meaningful heading “The impact of the Postal Directive on the market” explains that “The opening of the market and the introduction of competition are key instruments for the creation of jobs and a better service offer for customers” without saying another single word about the social conditions and employment relationships, the accompanying documents make different reading.

According to these documents, as a result of the liberalisation, the share of labour costs with respect to the overall costs of the postal operators, which stood at 80 % at the beginning of the 1990ies, has fallen to under 55 % in the case of some European providers – a strong indication of massive staff reductions. The accompanying document also shows that the number of employees in 2006 compared to 1997 has been decreased by 7.7 % across Europe.

The ECORYS Study, which forms the basis of the Commission Report, also makes interesting reading about individual countries. In its Country Sheet Austria, the Study says that because of the liberalisation a significant number of post offices were closed and jobs were axed, in particular during the period 2001-2006. If the number of employees working for Austrian Post AG, Austria's leading service provider in postal services was still 30,357 in 2001; in 2005 their number had shrunk to only 25,192. And the study arrives at another result worth mentioning: the often quoted argument that job losses with traditional postal service providers would be compensated by new jobs created by so-called alternative providers, i.e. new competitors, does not apply to Austria. Instead, the number of part time workers and contract personnel in Austria has exploded. The number of part time workers, for example has doubled in the last decade. And replacing regular staff with contract personnel is also in full swing.

These are the down sides of the liberalisation ideology, the effects of which are not only particularly felt by employees but which have been and still are repeatedly criticized by AK. Why these negative aspects can only be found in the “small print” of the Commission Report remains a so far unanswered question.

For further information:

Report of the Commission on the Application of the Postal Directive

Accompanying document to the Report from the Commission

Country Sheet Austria of the ECORYS study