AUSTRALIA Post maintains the impact of COVID-19 is to blame for turning its most rapid Express Post service into snail mail within Western Australia.
With its next-day guarantee currently suspended and other performance criteria set aside by the Federal government until June 30 next year as a result of COVID-19 impacts on Australia Post's business, delivery times for express post into some regional areas of WA have blown out.
Express post includes letters and parcels weighing up to five kilograms in pre-paid, flat-rate envelopes and satchels and is widely used by commercial customers to reach regional clients, as well as by private residents sending items to family and friends.
Australia Post customers in WA using express post for regular mailouts to country clients are experiencing delivery delays that seemingly make the more expensive express service no faster than the five business days delivery time Australia Post now claims for its cheaper regular intrastate mail.
Similar delays are also affecting Australia Post's priority letters service which previously promised next-day delivery within the metropolitan area and neighbouring towns and delivery within two days between towns in regional areas, all within the State.
Some of the longest intrastate delays seem to be for deliveries to smaller regional towns several hours' drive from Perth with no airfreight service, which makes a mockery of Australia Post's explanation that a lack of flights to carry an increased volume of mail is a major contributor to its problems in WA.
Australia Post said on April 20 it was "temporarily suspending" its express post guarantee of a refund and replacement envelope or satchel for articles that do not meet its next business day delivery standard.
While it has said it continues to "prioritise" Express Post items and the service continues to be its "fastest postal delivery option", it has acknowledged it "may not always meet the next business day delivery standard".
Australia Post has not indicated to regular customers at what point they might expect the next-day service and guarantee to be reinstated, but it has promised the service will eventually be reinstated.
It has not said who will make the decision to reinstate the service and guarantee and whether they will be reinstated nationally or State by State as local COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.
On May 22 Australia Post said the Federal government had agreed to its request for "temporary changes" to its performance standards in recognition of "operating constraints" due to COVID-19.
These changes included extending maximum delivery time for regular intrastate letters to up to five business days after the day of posting, suspending a requirement to provide a priority letters service and to delivery frequency in metropolitan areas, although regional delivery frequencies were to remain unchanged.
From June 1, priority letters - signified by the addition of a sticker costing an extra 50 cents -- will be processed and delivered as a regular letter, Australia Post said.
On its website it said the performance changes would be in place until June 30 next year, "subject to review".
Again on its website, Australia Post blamed "unprecedented parcel volumes being sent across the country as Australians adapt to living differently under COVID-19 restrictions" and a lack of airline flights to help carry up to two million mail items a day, for delays.
These issues were compounded by a significant increase in parcels that required manual sorting - there have also been some technical issues with automatic sorting - and social distancing measures affecting sorting room and other facilities' staffing levels, as well as on shift handovers, slowing the speed at which mail items can be processed, it said.
"We are doing everything possible to keep delivering during the coronavirus pandemic," Australia Post said on its website.
"However, the challenges presented by the pandemic mean there are delays as our business adopts additional safety measures to protect our people and customers," it said.
Farm Weekly put a series of questions to Australia Post in relation to express post delivery delays seeking answers, both for its own business which relies heavily on Australia Post and for other businesses and residents in regional WA who also rely on the service.
Australia Post's general manager deliveries Victoria/Tasmania/WA Shane Plant responded.
"Now more than ever, we understand the importance of our service for regional and rural communities," Mr Plant said.
"Our people are working hard to keep things moving through the network and we understand that these delays can be incredibly frustrating for our customers," Mr Plant said.
"Express post continues to be our fastest postal delivery option and we continue to prioritise these deliveries.
"However, a huge reduction in flights, social distancing measures and increased parcel volumes have impacted our entire network, resulting in a suspension of the express post next day guarantee and an update to our delivery timeframe.
"To help ease these impacts, we have chartered an additional eight freighter flights, increasing this to 17 dedicated air freighter flights per day, made arrangements to move more parcels through our road network and are exploring all available transport alternatives.
"However, this cannot completely account for the lack of domestic flights (passenger planes also carry mail).
"Additionally, we are operating our processing and delivery services seven days a week, have repurposed or opened 15 new facilities across Australia and are hiring hundreds of casual staff.
"This situation is unprecedented and the challenges are continually evolving.
"To deliver our usual express post service, we are reliant on domestic flight operations.
"Once these resume to a normal capacity and schedule, our usual express post service will also return.
"We will continue to review the situation and our performance to make necessary improvements and adjustments.
"We thank our customers for their patience and encourage them to visit auspost.com.au or call 13 13 18 for any specific issues or concerns."
On its website Australia Post has reminded customers aggressive or abusive behaviour towards its staff would not be tolerated.
"Our people continue to work tirelessly under difficult circumstances, so we're asking everyone to be kind and treat our dedicated people with the courtesy and respect they deserve - whether it be in a call centre, post office or dropping your delivery off," it said.