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Bpost to lose contract to distribute newspapers

08:40 30/11/2023

Belgian postal service bpost is on the verge of losing its newspaper distribution rights after it reportedly failed to win the contract against two competitors: PPP and Proximy of France.

The current contract expires on 31 December and the next is worth €125 million a year, L’Echo reports.

Leaks indicate that PPP submitted the best proposal to the Belgian economy ministry for the distribution of newspapers, while Proximy won the rights to handle the distribution of periodicals.

At least 4,500 jobs at bpost are said to be connected to newspaper distribution and a special council of ministers has met regarding the matter but has not yet reached an official decision, nor are the relevant authorities commenting publicly on the situation.

In the meantime, bpost said the uncertainty was unfortunate and it criticised the fact that it only learned of the loss of the contract through leaks to the press.

“The decision is very important for our company,” chief executive Chris Peeters said in a statement, adding that the firm was in constant dialogue with social partners.

“For years, bpost has ensured the distribution of newspapers and periodicals throughout the country. The current uncertainty is weighing heavily on the employees concerned and their families.”

Bpost is a publicly traded company and saw its shares on the Brussels stock exchange tumble 12% when the news leaked. The press concession was recently reduced from €175 million to €125 million a year, and the company has been in turmoil for almost a year.

The Belgian postal carrier said that it remained “at the disposal” of the economy ministry to answer any questions and that it “insists on clarifying, as soon as possible, the timing envisaged and the next steps in the process”.

Bpost also reiterated its commitment to finishing out the current contract: “Guaranteeing the quality and continuity of services is essential for bpost, particularly during this crucial end-of-year peak period.

"The thousands of postmen and women will ensure the distribution of newspapers and periodicals, as stipulated in the contract, at least until the end of the year.”

In reaction to the leaked news, the common trade union front expressed concern about the quality of newspaper distribution if the press concession were to be awarded to a private company.

“Bpost is the only company capable of managing this task logistically and operationally,” it said in a statement. “Will the companies that win this contract be able to guarantee such quality?”

Thierry Tasset of the CGSP estimates that 1,250 bpost employees would lose their jobs.

“The dailies are only carried for part of the day, for two hours for some, three hours for others, and others prepare the dailies during the night,” Tasset said.

“That's 4,500 people, 4,500 jobs for whom there would be less work, fewer hours to be worked, and whose activities would have to be reorganised. That would mean 1,250 people having to leave bpost.”

But the government may not have much room to manoeuvre if the proposals from competitors are significantly better. RTBF reports that the cost criterion accounted for 60% of the points in the award of the contract, and bpost is hardly the cheapest option.

Nevertheless, given the massive economic and social impact that would come with bpost losing the contract, government parties are divided.

Written by Helen Lyons