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Communication Workers Union speaks out as Post Office sells four Kent stores to WHSmith

The Communication Workers Union fears Post Office workers in Kent could be out of a job after a decision was made to sell off four Kent branches to WHSmith.

Post Offices in Maidstone, Tonbridge, Ashford and Dartford have already or soon will be making the transfer, putting 52 positions at risk.

All 13 staff in the Maidstone Week Street branch have been replaced by a new team, following the stationery store confirming ownership two weeks ago.

Post Office promised services would remain the same
Post Office promised services would remain the same

According to the union, although previous Post Office staff are being offered the same wage by WHSmith, this could change at any time if the store faces financial pressures.

Peter Meech, a CWU South East rep since 1974, said: "It is much safer for those who have worked for the company for a long time to accept a redundancy package rather than take the risk."

Customers had to find alternatives when the Maidstone store closed due to staff shortages
Customers had to find alternatives when the Maidstone store closed due to staff shortages

For new employees, WHSmith is offering a starting salary of around £14,000. The Post office offered £19,000 rising to £23,000 after a probationary period of around two years.

Mr Meech added: "Most people thought it was a job for life. Some of the workers I represent have never done anything else. Many of them are now going to be unemployed. They have no CV, no other experience - they are understandably very upset."

Tonbridge completed the transfer just over a week earlier than Maidstone on February 1.

The Post Office on Week Street, Maidstone (7406124)
The Post Office on Week Street, Maidstone (7406124)

Ashford and Dartford are both moving from their current locations in to WHSmith stores.

With the date already set, the Ashford store will exchange on Thursday, March 21.

Dartford is currently in the public consultation stage of the process, gauging the community’s response. This will end on Wednesday, March 20, with a decision expected soon after.

Changes to Post Office management were highlighted when Maidstone’s store was forced to temporarily close due to lack of trained staff.

The town's Post Office moved from Maidstone’s Bank Street to WHSmith in Week Street in August 2016 and customers were assured there would be no change in services, aside of the new location.

In a statement released at the time Post Office Ltd said: “The service will still be run by us and you’ll be served by the same branch team.”

In November, it was revealed 74 Post Offices across the UK were set to be sold to the stationery company, sparking a day of action by CWU.

The notice board displayed in Maidstone Post Office last Tuesday
The notice board displayed in Maidstone Post Office last Tuesday

According to the union, this move has put an estimated 800 jobs at risk in total.

In response to the WHSmith sell-off across the county, Post Office said: “We have discussed the various options with all members of staff individually to support them through the change.

"We know that people have concerns when we make changes but we give employees a number of options - they do have choices.

"We have run a lot of our stores this way for quite some time and they have been successful."

The spokesman confirmed there were no compulsory redundancies in Kent.

WHSmith first started running Post Offices in 2007 and will manage a total of 242 outlets after the proposed 74 have been transferred.

There are now just four Post Offices run directly by the company in Kent - Sittingbourne, Faversham, Tunbridge Wells and Sevenoaks.

In the Post Office’s statement of 2016 outlining the move from Bank Street, the spokesman added:“The WHSmith retail offer will complement the wide range of Post Office products and services, which will continue to be available following the move.”

However, the new Dartford store will not have all licence application and renewal services, and neither Dartford nor Ashford will have a cash machine.

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