Switzerland’s postal service has announced plans for a major overhaul that would cut hundreds of traditional post offices – potentially affecting around 1,200 staff.
However, the state-owned Swiss Post said it aims to increase its network of retail “access points” over the next four years to 4,000, up from the current 3,700.
“Our customers are more mobile and flexible, and increasingly take care of their postal transactions wherever and whenever it suits them,” said Susanne Ruoff, CEO of Swiss Post. “Rather than them having to look for us, Swiss Post must find its customers wherever they happen to be.”
In detailed presentations released on Wednesday, the post office said it “envisages a network of 800 to 900 traditional post offices by 2020”, down from the current number of 1,400. The exact number will depend on the outcome of discussions held with towns and cities and the nation’s 26 cantons.
“It will avoid closing post offices without replacing them, and will provide alternative solutions in all cases,” said an online statementexternal link. “By 2020, around 1,200 employees could be affected by changes. Swiss Post aims to continue to avoid redundancies.”
The postal service says the planned changes reflect a shift in customer needs and habits toward round-the-clock services for handling letters and parcels and for making payment transactions.
“While many customers still enjoy a trip to the post office, over-the-counter turnover has declined very sharply on the whole – by 63% for letters, 42% for parcels and 37% for payment transactions since the year 2000,” the postal service says.
Critics fear that remote regions in Switzerland will particularly be hard hit by the latest round of post office closures.
Over the past 15 years, the number of postal service subsidiaries has been reduced from 3,500 across the country. Swiss Post became a public limited company in 2013 due to legislation adopted by parliament three years earlier.
Starting next January, the postal service says it will host public meetings in places that would be affected by the planned changes.
The Swiss Postexternal link employs more than 62,000 people and revenue stood at CHF8.2 billion ($8.2 billion) in 2015.
The Syndicom trade union in 2010 collected enough signatures for a people's initiative aimed at preserving the postal network. The initiative never came to a vote as the unions withdrew it.
The Swiss postal service was founded in 1849, after decades of private and cantonal control over the system except in Zurich, Basel and Lucerne.
Within decades the post office became the first regular customer of the railways and Switzerland became the fourth country to adopt the use of postcards.
The global Universal Postal Unionexternal link was founded in 1874 in Bern, where it remains to this day as part of the United Nations family of organisations.
The postal service became deeply rooted in the Swiss national identity partly due to its multi-use mandate such as offering a convenient service for paying rent, bills and wages and creating a broad network of rural buses.
The postal agency also spawned telecommunications and finance companies.
The Swiss Post has 1,400 self-operated branches, or traditional post offices. It also has 800 postal branches, or agencies.
In addition, it offers 1,300 home delivery services and 290 service points where customers can find some services.
The plan calls for shrinking the number of self-operated branches down to 800-900 while increasing the number of postal branches up to 1,200-1,300.
The number of home delivery services would remain the same while the number of service points would rise to 500-700.
swissinfo.ch and agencies