Finsbury Park Post Office: Union urges boycott of stationery shop over concern for workers’ rights
PUBLISHED: 09:58 09 August 2017 | UPDATED: 10:53 09 August 2017
Outside Finsbury Park Post Office on a Saturday morning, a group of union activists are campaigning. They are asking people to make a pledge. A pledge not to buy stationery.
The Post Office is looking to “modernise” its branch in Seven Sisters Road, across the road from the park itself. This means merging with a stationery shop, to be run by a man called Rizwan Salahuddin.
Little is known about Mr Salahuddin, apart from the Post Office saying “he has satisfied us that he would be able to successfully operate the branch”.
Activists from the Communication Workers Union (CWU), however, are not appeased. They don’t want the merger to happen. By jumping into bed with a franchisee, they claim the Post Office will be left with an inferior service.
The Post Office is currently holding a consultation on its plans, which it hopes to implement in November. The consultation ends on September 6. Until then, the CWU reps will be asking members of the public to promise not to buy Mr Salahuddin’s stationery.
One activist, who has worked for the Post Office for four decades but didn’t want to be named, said: “We have no idea who this guy is. What we are saying is: don’t buy anything in his shop. We know people have to use the Post Office. But if they pledge to boycott the shop, it might persuade them not to go ahead with the plans. We have to use everything we possibly can.”
He and colleagues claims they have 300 signatures so far, and expect to have reached four figures by September 6.
But will it really be that bad?
The Post Office says the new franchised branch will have the “same wide range of services”. It will be open for five hours longer on Saturdays. The shop will be refurbished, with better disabled access.
The CWU rep countered: “The Post Office has this standard line that it gives to people. It says the franchisee will still offer the full range of services, and it will have longer opening hours. Our experience is that the service is always far worse.
“In 1975, there were 1,500 crown Post Offices. Over that time, the Post Office has had a policy of franchising to individuals and newsagents like McColl’s and WHSmith.
“We are now down to 300 crown Post Offices. There is no end in sight. It’s what we call a managed decline. The way it’s going, there will only be three left in north London, including the Upper Street branch in Islington.”
He continued: “The main concern for us as a union is that it’s a race to the bottom. The Post Office is known for secure employment and good wages. Under franchises, they receive lower wages and no pensions.
"We are now down to 300 crown Post Offices. There is no end in sight. It’s what we call a managed decline. The way it’s going, there will only be three left in north London, including the Upper Street branch in Islington"
“As a result, there’s a reduction in service: the Post Office staff won’t be as experienced, knowledgeable or dedicated. The turnover of staff will be higher because of the lower wages.
“But the most important thing is if the franchisee gets into financial trouble, or is not getting enough revenue, they don’t have to renew the contract to carry on running the Post Office.”
But Roger Gale, sales and trade marketing director, said franchising is necessary for the Post Office’s survial: “We believe the best approach to retaining this branch, so it can continue to serve its community, is to change the way we operate it. If the change goes ahead it will be run by Mr Salahuddin, rather than by us directly.
“Our priority is to ensure that we provide services that will meet customer needs, both now and into the future, and secure the long-term viability of Post Office services. He can deliver excellent standards of customer service, with trained staff promoting products and services.”
"We believe the best approach to retaining this branch, so it can continue to serve its community, is to change the way we operate it"
To have your say, visit postofficeviews.co.uk
Islington Post Offices
Franchised Post Offices are now part of the Islington landscape.
Three years ago, Holloway Post Office closed and relocated to a convenience store.
Go back further, to 2008, and you might remember protests against the closure of Caledonian Road Post Office. Today, it’s located at the back of a card shop.
The CWU activist tells the Gazette: “The Post Office never takes any notice of us. I remember [Islington North MP] Jeremy Corbyn being totally against the closure of Holloway.
“The thing is, the Post Office now has franchising down to a fine art. They have been doing it for so many years.
“They know the process to go through. The consultation is just a box-ticking exercise as part of pushing the plans through.
“I just wish they would consider the alternatives – and actually listen to the views of local people.”
One Crown Post Office remains – in Upper Street – after the closure of Highbury Corner Post Office in 2014.