Tuesday, February 04, 2003

Headline on Haaretz's financial pages: “Treasury to propose slashing 60,000 jobs in public sector.”

I wasn't born yesterday. I know this is a bargaining stand. They won't firing this much. Not straight away, anyhow. They can say what they like, but they'll have to come to some sort of agreement with the Histadrut (trade union). But it's troubling, nevertheless. It could include my "secure" job.

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I know a lot of Postal Authority workers, mainly blue collar: Mailmen, sorters, package haulers and so on, but also a few junior executives: Supervisors, Post Office managers. They often tell about their work conditions, the petty politics, trade union issues. And I thank my lucky stars because my work conditions are so much better than theirs. Last week they went on strike, I think it was just for a day or two and they went back to work this Sunday. If I understand correctly, the reason for the strike, which will probably be renewed soon, is the intention to turn the Postal Authority into a government company, starting with the dismissal of 250 Postal Authority workers (and probably more later on). I haven't really been following the story all that closely, despite my personal connections (My friends are not very happy to talk about it, probably hoping that if they don't think about it too much, it will go away, poor things).

My personal experience of the postal service in Israel is good. I remember when, back in the seventies, a letter from my grandparents in England took weeks to arrive, if at all. Service inside Israel wasn't marvelous either. Today the service is much faster and much more efficient, although it's still not a good idea to send cash money in an envelope. The Postal Authority also offers a lot more additional services than in the past. The service in the local Post Offices has greatly improved over the years, as well (at least in Tel Aviv, R.T. tells a very different story about his local post office in Netanya).

Now it may seem quite natural that a postal service in a small country, still in it's formative years, would improve greatly over a period of twenty or thirty years. I was very surprised when, during the latter half of 1999, I was in snail mail contact with a party residing in a rural area of the South West of France. Their postal service was abominable! It seems hundreds of years of bureaucracy is not necessarily a guarantee of efficiency, quite the contrary, in this case. From this I learnt to be much more appreciative of the Israeli service and its relatively rapid development.

Personal experience aside (and my use of snail mail is minimal, I must admit), from my friends' stories I know that the Postal Authority has been badly managed for many years and really has to make a serious effort to become more efficient. Top executives in the Postal Authority have apparently been political appointments for many years, if not forever. As someone said to me, it's an organization run by people who don't know what a letter looks like. Someone else told me that modern machinery that was bought is rotting in basements because it was found to be unsuitable after the purchase. What a waste. Appropriate and suitable modernization has not been implemented in recent years and a lot of the workers, currently employed in manual labor, are probably superfluous.

Today I will see some of my friends from the Post for the first time since the dismissals were announced. I wonder if personal letters of dismissals have been issued yet and if anyone I know is among the unlucky ones. And I wonder how they are all feeling.

I am the last one to call for a halt in development so as to prevent people from losing their jobs. I know little about economics, but it seems to me that the spurt in development, competition and creativity in the field of communications in Israel in recent years has created many many thousands more jobs than those that will be lost in making the postal service into a more efficient organization. At the moment we are in the middle of a recession, but, hopefully, we won't be in a recession for ever and things will start growing again, and then many more new jobs will be created. Am I right?

But in the meantime, good, decent, hard-working people are going to lose their livelihoods, and my heart goes out to them.

Update: Good news, I guess. I understand from my friends that the idea is to try to get rid of the freeloaders who are not good, decent or hard working, at all. The plan is for the managers to work in cooperation with the union committees in deciding who is to go, in order to prevent personal vendettas. It's not happening yet because the head of the union committee isn't happy for some reason or other, or something along those lines. The guys I met up with seemed to know exactly who should be going home, for the organization to get more efficient, but were rather skeptical about the ability of firing these particular people (Stands to reason. For someone to be a freeloader for years, he must be wielding some sort of power over someone or other).