By Poly Pantelides
AUSTERITY MEASURES have left the postal services short-staffed with 80 vacancies they cannot replace, their deputy director has said.
But he insisted that staffing levels were just a minor factor in the continued delays to post arriving from the United Kingdom and elsewhere.
Pavlos Pavlides, deputy director of the postal services, conceded staff shortages might cause slight delays of a day or two at most.
“Some delays are inevitable,” he said, after being asked to comment on yet another series of complaints by Sunday Mail readers who wanted to know why their mail from the UK was late again.
Pavlides said they now have about 650 people on the payroll, 80 short of a full service but said the services were doing their best within their given constraints, such as early or compulsory retirements, and the inability to promote people to key posts.
But he said the Cyprus postal services were not responsible for longer delays spanning two and three weeks.
Complaints over postal delays are common among Sunday Mail readers with several saying that mail from the UK now “frequently” took between two and three weeks.
Another reader, 54-year-old John Christodoulou, needed a number of important papers to file a tax returns form with Inland Revenue. He contacted his UK-based bank weeks ahead of time but was still waiting this week for the papers to arrive. When he called his bank, he was told the documents had been sent on August 28.
“I should not have to wait for over two weeks for a simple letter to arrive,” Christodoulou said.
The postal services are fully aware there is a problem with mail from the UK, which accounts for about half of the overseas letter traffic to Cyprus, but say the fault lies with the Royal Mail which is responsible for outgoing mail from the UK and makes its own agreements with airline carriers which were not always reliable.
Royal Mail officials visited the island in early June to discuss delays, particularly around Christmas time, said Pavlides.
At the meeting, the services of a specific carrier was identified as problematic and the Royal Mail agreed to start using alternative airlines, striking a special agreement with Emirates airline at an increased cost for the Royal Mail.
Pavlides said the Royal Mail’s move to increase their Cyprus’ budget to ensure a timely delivery of items showed their “willingness to address the issue”.
“A communication channel has been opened to ensure we have the fewest possible problems at Christmas,” Pavlides said.
As an example of what sometimes went wrong, Pavlides said that postal sacks have previously got stuck in an interim destination and then all arrived at once. This meant that the Larnaca airport sorting station had to deal with a massive arrival of mail, after days of relative quiet.
According to EU guidelines, 85 per cent of priority mail should take three days to arrive to its receiver, from the moment it is mailed from its origin country. A total of 97 per cent of priority mail should make the journey within five days, Pavlides said.
But he said that those targets were “overly optimistic and even overly demanding” for both inbound and outbound mail because Cyprus is isolated from most distribution networks and has to rely on airline carriers, some of which don’t carry mail and all of which prioritise luggage over postal sacks.
He said this explained why even in the summer, when there are more flights, people still report delays. For example, Emirates only started carrying mail in the summer, after the Royal Mail visit. But during peak season, when people tend to send more mail, airlines also carry more people and by extension less mail.
“We are on an almost daily communication [with the Royal Mail], trying to address problems and weaknesses,” he added.