The slow farewell to the postman

Bonn (dpa) – “If it weren’t for the good old post office, where would all the letters come from?” Heinz Rühmann followed his own path to this film music as “Briefträger Müller” in the 1950s – on screen he delivered letters in a small town whose inhabitants he knew well and greeted them friendly.

The film clearly shows that the postman was an institution. If there was a new edition, the role could be different. Because there are fewer and fewer postmen in Germany. Instead, network delivery people who have both packages and letters with them in the van are becoming increasingly important.

The volume of letters has been falling for a long time

The structural change began at the turn of the millennium and rapidly accelerated in the digital age – people wrote fewer and fewer letters and communicated more first by e-mail and finally also via social networks. At the same time, the rise of e-commerce has boosted the parcel business. Result: the volume of letters has been falling for a long time and the volume of parcels is exploding.

This is how the volume ratio between the two postal divisions has changed: while in 2010 there were still 21 letters per parcel in Germany, this ratio was only 15:1 in 2015 and 8:1 in 2020. The trend will continue to decline: in 2025 Deutsche Post expects five letters per parcel. In 2030, the ratio is expected to be only three to one.

One is “facing an increasingly intense structural change with steadily decreasing letter volumes and increasing parcel volumes”, says Tobias Meyer, Member of the Board of Management at Post & Parcel Germany. “The corona pandemic has again accelerated this development and consolidated this trend.” We are therefore extending network delivery where it “makes sense and is feasible” – “so that we can continue to offer our employees secure jobs with decent wages”. The underlying logic: if you continued to deliver letters as before, the delivery network would eventually become unaffordable given the drop in letter volume.

“Serious operational consequences” threaten

An internal paper, made available to the dpa, illustrates the great importance of the subject for the group. In the document, the company emphasizes that countermeasures must be taken. One is “constantly exposed to the increasing demands of competition, customers and regulators”. If one does not act decisively, “serious operational consequences” threaten.

In fact, the restructuring that began a good twenty years ago is progressing. Of the approximately 55,000 delivery districts in Germany, 55% have already switched to combined delivery – the classic postman no longer exists there. In 2017, the share was less than 50%, by 2025 it is expected to reach 70%. In the past, combined delivery only took place in rural areas, after which cities were also included.

At Deutsche Post, combined delivery is a hot topic, and it was also discussed at the general meeting on Friday. CFO Melanie Kreis answered shareholders’ question on how to improve the cost situation in the mail business: “We are in the process of further expanding the number of districts in the network.” In addition, postmen on bicycles now also transport smaller parcels.

“Many are already working to the limit”

Part of the workforce records the procedure with concern. Maik Brandenburger from the communications trade union DPV points out that the physical load of employees who have so far only delivered letters is likely to increase in group delivery – after all, they also have to transport heavy packages. “Many delivery workers are already working at the limit and sometimes beyond – the added burden will drive up already high sick leave even further.” The union warns of a further intensification of work and staff reductions following the extension of network delivery.

Thorsten Kühn of the Verdi union admits that structural change cannot be ignored. “So obviously you’re not going business as usual in all delivery areas.” The transition from factor to group factor also makes it possible to secure jobs over the long term.

Find another solution for the factors

In principle, people are open to the subject, says Kühn. “However, we have to watch the load closely – tools are needed to be able to carry heavy loads, such as hand trucks or other special equipment.” Also, there should be no coercion, he says. “If the letter carriers who have been with us for many years do not want to be converted into collective carriers, then another solution should be found for them.”

And what does this mean for consumers? There will probably be no longer a wait for the few letters you still receive. “The parcel network is cut for efficiency – if the letters are also delivered by the parcel carrier, they should arrive as quickly as before,” says Kai-Oliver Schocke, professor of logistics in Frankfurt. He also considers the measures taken by Swiss Post to be unavoidable and correct. For the consumer, the gradual farewell to the postman is a nostalgic thing: “The well-known postman may soon no longer appear at some people’s doorsteps – but the courier is certainly at least as friendly.”

© dpa-infocom, dpa:220506-99-184913/3

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