letters pile up at post offices

MILLIONS of letters are piling up at post offices countrywide as postal workers prepare to enter the second week of their strike today.

Post offices are either closed or working on skeleton staff after members of the Communication Workers Union (CWU) downed tools in protest against the "apartheid wage gap" in the post office.

CWU's second deputy president Mathapelo Mphuthi said: "The strike has a huge negative impact because we started when people were supposed to receive their letters so that they can pay before the end of the first week of the next month."

Gauteng has reportedly been the hardest hit.

Outside a Pretoria post office, dozens of mailboxes were overflowing but customers forced their letters in despite the warning that the letters would remain there until the end of the strike.

In Johannesburg at least 7million letters have not been attended to since the strike began. All post offices under Johannesburg send their letters to Witspos mail centre for processing. There are 700 workers on strike at that station.

Insiders say Witspos handles more than a million letters a day and that it will take up to four weeks to get back to normal operations.

"I get paid R5536 less than the white people employed in the same job and who earn R10000," said Muzi Sibiya, a mail processor employed for 10 years at Witspos.

He said it was painful for black supervisors to earn R9300, less than the people they supervise.

At Johannesburg's city centre post office, a skeleton staff was discouraging customers from depositing letters and helping only with deposits and electronic transactions.

Staff said they were worried that people would not receive their bills or accounts.

In Limpopo management said the strike had had no impact.

The City of Johannesburg asked ratepayers to find alternative ways of finding out how much they owe on their municipal accounts.

Customers were urged to use the Internet, call the city or visit the nearest customer centres for printouts of their municipal bills. But some angry customers said they will not pay if they do not receive their statements.

Sedibeng municipality spokesperson Dan Manoeli said they had not received complaints from customers.

Post Office chief executive John Wentzel said only 7percent of post offices had been forced to close.