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A vote in the European Parliament paving the way for unbridled competition among postal operators has been welcomed by many as a key step in improving the quality and efficiency of mail services across
Europe. But others fear the new law will lead to massive job cuts and a deterioration of working conditions.In October 2006, the Commission presented plans to dissolve lingering monopolies in the European mail market by 1 January 2009, saying increased competition would lead to cheaper, faster and more innovative service provision.The central element of the proposal was the elimination of the so-called “reserved area”, which gives incumbents the right to maintain a lucrative monopoly over the delivery of letters weighing less than 50 grammes in return for providing an affordable, five-days-per-week delivery service even to citizens in remote areas – the so-called “Universal Service Obligation”.Countries where liberalisation is already underway or finalised, including the UK, Sweden, the Netherlands and
Germany, staunchly defended the Commission’s plans in the hope of opening up new markets for their national operators in neighbouring countries. But postal workers and numerous national operators rejected the timeline proposed by the Commission, saying it would destroy public operators and result in large job losses and weaker customer service.Lengthy debates in Parliament resulted in a demand for the plans to be delayed at least until 31 December 2010 – a request that was subsequently backed by member states under the Portuguese Presidency.Despite continued resistance from Green and leftist deputies, who fear that full liberalisation could undermine member states’ ability to provide a universal service the draft Directive on opening up EU members’ postal markets sailed through Parliament unchanged on 31 January 2008, after ministers, last October, approved practically all of the MEPs’ first-reading amendments.A key element in convincing MEPs was the incorporation of provisions aimed at ensuring that increased competition does not end in a race to the bottom to win postal business, through social dumping and a degradation of working conditions. The draft law now states that basic labour conditions applicable in a member state, such as minimum pay and holidays or the right to strike, will not affected by the directive. The move comes as Germany and the Netherlands – ironically two countries that fought side-by-side to push through speedier liberalisation of European postal markets – engage in a battle over German social protection laws, causing the
Netherlands to delay its planned 1 January 2008 liberalisation.The dispute surrounds Dutch-based post and logistics giant TNT’s refusal to comply with a €9.80 per hour minimum postal wage introduced by the German government in December 2007, one month ahead of the liberalisation of the German postal market. TNT, which currently pays its German workers €7.50 an hour, has lodged a lawsuit with a
Berlin commercial court in a bid to have its alternative minimum wage declared valid. The Dutch company argues that the German move is an “abusive” attempt to shield the formerly state-owned mail monopoly Deutsche Post from competition as no other operator can afford to have the minimum wage set at that level.

The debate sheds some light on the difficulties that could lie ahead in terms of creating a level playing field and ensuring fair competition while guaranteeing workers’ rights, as member states start to implement the EU’s third postal directive.

From Eur Activ

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