The future of the postman in New Zealand


Kia Ora

How many of you did a postal run delivering pamphlets as your first job? Be honest. I did it for about 2 1/4 years starting in 1995 and ending in 1997 with Adpost, delivering advertising material – must resist urge to call this junk mail – to people’s letter boxes.

In 1997, I, my brother and a friend of ours went to see The Postman one weekend at the cinema. It is a movie about a postman played by Kevin Costner who tries to resurrect the postal delivery service in some sort of post apocalypse America. The movie was a bit of a wipe out as we were concerned and I heard at least one person asking where the 3 hours of their life that they gave to this film went. The Postman might have been a wipe out movie, but in some respects it reminds me of the New Zealand postal service in 2013.

New Zealand Post and the service it is entrusted to deliver to New Zealanders is in crisis. It may or may not want to admit this, but the statistics are clearly cut in support of this idea. The steady fall of postage volumes throughout New Zealand and the use of e-mail to send items that would have gone via hard mail is not new. The media has been discussing the potential outcomes of cost – and staff – cutting at N.Z.P. as well as the services that they are expected to deliver. For example, one measure being considered, which I expect will be bitterly challenged is the idea of cutting delivery days per week from 6 to 3. For many rural communities such as Darfield, Putaruru, Piako, Twizel, as well as larger towns like Gore, Greymouth, Tokoroa, Bulls and Kaitaia, the potential demise of nearly daily postal services raises questions about what is in store. In this case it is six day postal services along with the end of the jobs relating to them in these jobs such as customer service, mail room, the delivery and pick up jobs and such that are in the spot light.

As much as the temptation might exist on the centre-left to blame the National-led Government of Prime Minister John Key for this, the statistics and their trends show that this started some time before then. For years there has been a steady decline in the volume of hard mail in transit through the New Zealand postal system.

Change is coming – and in many respects is already here – with regards to how New Zealanders post their mail. The electronic self-serve counter is without doubt on its way in, as is are the means to electronically sign mail – e-mail or hard mail – and the ability to organise alternative modes of transport, packaging and handling via the internet. All of these are challenges that New Zealanders are going to have to get used to over the next decade. The post office as it was known up to the 1980s when a deregulatory revolution was set in motion across the public service – and some will say continues to this day, for better or for worse – used to be a place where one went in with a letter, put it in an envelope with the address on it, bought a stamp and paid for postage. Now it is a place to pay fines/debts, arrange your own postage for letters, parcels – that did not go via e-mail, purchase cards, magazines, stationery and – if one belongs to Kiwi Bank – invest.

The postmen/women who brave the contents of the sky, the barking of dogs anxious to let all and sundry know of their presence, and – in the case of Christchurch wobbly ground and eruptions of mud – will however continue to have a place. They will sail past your boxes when they can, on bike delivering the completely mundane such as an electricity bill, through to joy (getting a contract for an employment role) or disappointment, despair, or disgust. Despite the weather sometimes being abominal for them, whenever they can, the show must go on. For older people, in retirement, unable to leave their homes, they might be the only point of contact they have in the course of a day.

The postie will be around for a bit longer yet!

Take Care,

Rob

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