Largest lay-off operation in Dutch history at TNT

A postman in 1972, when no mail was electronic and the national postal office had a monopoly.
By Patricia Veldhuis

Almost half of all mail deliverers and sorters at the former national postal company will lose their jobs in the largest mass lay-off at a single company in the Netherlands ever.

11,000 mail deliverers and sorters will be made redundant at TNT Post, the Netherlands' former national postal service announced in its staff magazine on Thursday. The company, which is struggling with new competition and high wages, says a reorganisation is unavoidable after the unions turned down a deal to cut pay instead of jobs.

At present, TNT employs 80,000 people worldwide, 23,000 of whom are full-time deliverers and sorters in the Netherlands. Almost half of those will lose their jobs in the next three years, the company said on Thurday. A lot of people whose jobs are at stake have been with the post office their entire careers. Many are in their late forties and early fifties, not an easy age to find a new job even in a good economy.

TNT is writing history, says Paul Klep, a professor of economic and social history at the Nijmegen University. Never before have so many people been laid-off by one single company in the Netherlands. Philips electronics cut 10,000 jobs in the 1980s, but not all at once. The bankruptcy of airplane builder Fokker cost 5,600 jobs in 1996. "A lot of people lost their jobs in the 1930s, but mostly because small companies folded. Tens of thousands of jobs disappeared when the mines closed [in the 60s and 70s,] but those were spread out over a long period," says Klep.

Eroded monopoly

TNT is not just suffering from the economic crisis, it is also struggling with competition from email on the one hand and new players on the liberalised postal market on the other. Mail delivery was privatised in the Netherlands in 1994 and European laws have slowly opened up the market for other companies, causing TNT's monopoly to erode. Two new players gaining ground, Sandd and Selekt Mail, are cheaper than TNT, partly because they hire employees on a part-time basis and at a fraction of what TNT pays.

The lay-offs come as no surprise. After years of processing 3 to 4 percent less mail every year, TNT predicts a decline of 5 to 6 percent over 2009 and says it needs to save 395 million euros. A near deal to reduce employees' pay by 15 percent in exchange for three years job security was rejected by union members in April.

While the unions announced they would investigate alternative scenarios for the cuts, TNT organised a survey among its staff asking whether they would prefer to give up pay or accept lay-offs. On Thursay, the company said 74 percent would opt for lower wages. It wants to use those results to go back to the negotiating table with the unions. However, TNT stressed that the 11,000 lay-offs are now unavoidable. "This is stupid and rude," says union leader EdithSnoeij. "We were supposed to have until September to come up with an alternative."

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