Post unions hit back at audit criticism

Updated: 2015-11-19 07:43

By Kahon Chan in Hong Kong(HK Edition)

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Criticisms of Hongkong Post's cost-effectiveness in the latest Director of Audit's report were staunchly rejected by unions representing postal workers on Wednesday.

Hongkong Post unions said random peaks in mail volumes, difficulties in hiring contract staff to work at remote locations and cost-effectiveness issues explained the postal service's hefty bill on overtime payments and failure to identify underpayment of postage. These had all been cited in the report.

Public postal services in Hong Kong have been self-financing since 1995 under a trading fund system. The Audit Commission report on Wednesday had raised questions over Hongkong Post's cost-effectiveness.

The audit sent 50 local letters with no or insufficient postage stamps - 43 went to recipients with no surcharges. For 1,190 mail items selected randomly from 11 street mailboxes, 97 were underpaid.

At the same time, most post offices are making huge losses. In the year 2014-15, only 19 percent of post offices turned a profit. One office posted a huge loss of HK$5.2 million.

Civil service regulations specify that overtime allowance may only be paid if time off in lieu is not practical. But for the year ending March, four in five overtime hours at Hong Kong Post were paid in cash - amounting to HK$179 million.

The Air Mail Centre came under particular fire, as many staff worked overtime on a regular basis. This included 14 staff who worked 990 to 1,440 overtime hours each year, most of which were paid in cash. The audit recommended a review of the workload at the Air Mail Centre.

Postmaster General Jessie Ting Yip Yin-mei agreed with the recommendations, but unions disputed the findings.

Hong Kong Postal Workers Union Chairman Eric Cheung Wai-kuen explained that the postal facility at the airport had struggled to retain staff for the past two years. This was due to competition from nearby freight companies. He said they were also prone to overtime work due to round-the-clock operations and irregular cargo flight times.

Cheung stressed they had managed to reduce underpayment of larger parcels in the past.

He and Fok Ho-sum, chairman of the Post Office Postal Officers' Union, doubted the rationale behind audit's assessment of post offices' financial performance. The postal service still served the public interest, they noted. Closures of post offices in the past had often sparked considerable opposition despite low use of them.

Cheung added that overtime work for postmen was common during peak periods of mail delivery - such as ahead of elections. But ad-hoc marketing newsletters sometimes still took them by surprise and overtime work arrangements were indispensable.

(HK Edition 11/19/2015 page8)