Orders of the Day — Temporary Postmen (Dismissals)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 11th November 1947.

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Photo of Mr James Reid Mr James Reid , Glasgow Hillhead 12:00 am, 11th November 1947

I venture to ask the House to turn its attention for a few minutes to a case of injustice done to public servants by the Postmaster-General. The matter arises in respect of a number of different places in the Kingdom but I deal only with cases in regard to Glasgow because it is only there I know the facts intimately. I would rehearse them very shortly. During May of this year, 99 full-time temporary postmen, whose average age was as high as 52 years, were dismissed by the right hon. Gentleman in Glasgow, without any suggestion that they had in any way failed in their duty to their employers or the public. "Temporary" is rather a misnomer, because a great number of these men had seen the Post Office through the difficult years of the war and had seven or eight years' service, but that counted for nothing. They were suddenly dismissed for no reason, apparently. I was approached on the matter and something was said by the Assistant Postmaster-General in an earlier Debate raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Westbury (Mr. Grimston), who, while raising the general question, was good enough to mention the question of these Glasgow men. The Assistant Postmaster-General stated that they did make an attempt to put into operation a new service. He went on to say that as a result of the fuel crisis and various other matters, including the need for men in productive industry and they decided to cut the services and reduce the number of men accordingly. Immediately they made the decision to cut the services and provide men for industry, they began to reduce the number.

It might well be held, that after they had dismissed those men some weeks might elapse before all of them found other places in industry; there might be a temporary period in which there would be a slight margin of unemployment. It turned out that they did not get employment. I asked on 22nd July what the position was, and the Minister of Labour told the House that no less than 64 of them, after eight weeks, were still out of employment. There are two other interesting things. I was told the Postmaster-General had never consulted the Minister of Labour whether the men were likely to find employment if dismissed. But the whole purpose was that they should find other employment in the national interest. This was a very grave failure on the part of the right hon. Gentleman's Department.

The Minister of Labour went on to say that the Government had never given any indication that men who had been dismissed from one job would be forced into another. A direct rebuttal to the right hon. Gentleman. What did he do? The right hon. Gentleman at once changed his ground, and invented the ground of redundancy. It was no longer said that it was done in order that these men could go into productive employment. It was said that the men had been dismissed because of redundancy. Nobody who knows how inefficient the Post Office services are, could possibly accept that excuse. Acting on information received, as it said in another connection, I asked the right hon. Gentleman how much overtime the remaining postmen had to do in the next few months, and I was told 66,000 hours in Glasgow Yet we are told that the action was taken because of redundancy. The thing makes no sense at all. The men concerned, I should add, were postmen of both grades.

What happened after that? I asked the right hon. Gentleman if he had taken on more men. He has taken on far more men than the number he dismissed. At least 48 of them are men under 30 years of age who would have been useful in productive employment. What he has done is to dismiss a number of men who could not get other employment because they are too old, and he has taken in their places still more men who would have been available for other employment if they were not employed by the Post Office; and there are still half of the number of men dismissed, after five months, who have not found another job. Will not the right hon. Gentleman change his mind? Will not he admit that he has made a serious mistake; that these men cannot get into productive employment? Can he say that they would not be useful in the Post Office increasing the postal services? The right hon. Gentleman would save money if he took them back, because he would save unemployment benefit and also a certain amount of overtime rates. Why, then, will he not do it? It really is astonishing. I have rarely seen a decision which combined stupidity with injustice to such a degree.

Now the right hon. Gentleman cannot be accused of being an unjust man. Why, then, has he done this? Why does he stick to his decision? I wish to ask him this: is there a clue to be found in what I read in a newspaper? I saw, in a newspaper report of a Labour Women's Conference on 1st October, that a certain lady from Edinburgh had protested about this matter. But it was pointed out to her that the matter rested between the Post Office and the various unions concerned, and she withdrew her resolution. I do not know by whom this was pointed out, but obviously it was done by someone in authority. Was it done with the right hon. Gentleman's consent? Had he upheld that? Is it a case of the unions having forced his hand? Has he allowed himself to be driven into an unjust course at the behest of these unions? Otherwise why does he commit this injustice? Unjust it obviously is. Those concerned are men who have given many years of good service, and there is useful work for them to do in Glasgow. This is a thing of which any decent private employer would be ashamed. Is this the sort of thing to be expected from Government Depart- ments as employers? Many of us have always suspected that Government Departments were not good employers. It appears now that Government Departments have descended to very low depths. I do not want to take up more time of the House, but I do say that I hope there can be a denial that trade union pressure has anything to do with this. But, if the right hon. Gentleman can deny it, then why does he maintain this unjust position; a position unjust to the men and to the public?