NZ Post cutback: Letters a treasured lifeline

KERRY MCBRIDE
Last updated 05:00 30/01/2013
Jeannie Duncan
CHRIS SKELTON/ Fairfax NZ

LIFELINE: Jeannie Duncan relies on the postal service to keep her connected with her loved ones.

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Lower Hutt grandmother Jeannie Duncan sends up to 10 letters a week to her friends, children, and even a couple of great-grandchildren.

With a post box right near her Naenae house and a busy life chairing the Naenae branch of the Country Women's Institute, the 78-year-old said a reduction in deliveries from NZ Post would cut her off from many people.

"Letter writing is what keeps me in touch with the world. It's so important.

"I send cards, birthday cards, updates to family, letters to members of the institute, everybody. At Christmas time I sent out 80 cards to various people."

With family spread across the country and in Australia, expensive toll calls were simply not an option and family visits to her Naenae home were rare.

"I can't always reach people by phone, especially my young grandkids, but they all love getting letters from me and write back. It's like a present for the young ones."

While Duncan understood that letter sending had dropped significantly thanks to the internet and courier services, she said cutting postal deliveries to three days a week was not the right answer.

"I can't work a computer or read things online. I only just started using telebanking last year. There would be so many people in my age group in the same situation.

"But if they have to cut days, they could cut the Saturday service. That would leave Monday to Friday intact for everybody."

If the changes went ahead it would be incredibly sad, particularly for any NZ Post workers who might lose their jobs, Duncan said.

"I told my postie that if he ever needs anyone to march on Parliament over this, then he can count on me. And I really mean that. I probably keep the Naenae post shop in business."

POST CUTBACK 'INEVITABLE'

The Government is poised to accept a recommendation to slash the current six-day-a-week regime to just three days a week as mail volumes plummet.

That could come earlier than the proposed 2014-15 if mail volumes fell much faster than expected, NZ Post chief executive Brian Roche has said.

Communications Minister Amy Adams will decide on any changes after six weeks for public consultation. She said she would look to balance the interests of postal users with financial viability.

"We will be wanting to talk particularly to rural communities, particularly to the elderly - people who do find it harder to communicate in other ways."

But Prime Minister John Key signalled that an end to daily letter deliveries was inevitable.

"Fundamentally people are sending less mail and therefore less mail's delivered," he said.

Roche said the fall in volumes was irreversible.

Christmas card deliveries fell by up to 20 per cent in December compared with 2011.

If mail volumes declined much faster than the forecast 6 per cent to 8 per cent a year, cuts could come sooner than next year.

Job losses would be in the hundreds. Cost savings would be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Three-day-a-week deliveries would allow posties to cover two rounds on alternate days.

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The proposal included a move to more self-service kiosks, which would affect post office staff.

There were other options, such as a subsidy from the Government, but NZ Post was not seeking that.

Roche said NZ Post accepted that rural customers would be the worst affected and it would work with rural contractors, who delivered other products as well, to see what could be done.

Federated Farmers said the proposal would not come as a great shock.

Farmers would resist any separate "rural delivery fee".

- The Dominion Post

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