Yellow van trick, late letters: France’s La Poste replies to criticism

Reasons given for changes to the service include increase in home shopping, cost-cutting and Covid

A La Poste branch in Paris
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France’s postal service La Poste has responded to criticisms about undelivered letters and a general lack of organisation, telling The Connexion that Covid and a rise in online shopping has meant the service has had to adapt.

Reports in French media have claimed that La Poste is struggling to cope with restructured workloads and an influx of temporary workers, leading to issues of late or undelivered letters.

The consumer association Familles de France has also confirmed to The Connexion that there is a growing problem with deliveries.

We detailed the situation in our article here: Undelivered letters: Why is France’s postal service struggling?

A postal worker in Essonne, named by Franceinfo as Cathy, said that there are issues sorting the post caused by temporary workers.

“Before, we arrived in the morning and sorted the post ourselves. That meant there were no mistakes. Then we prepared our rounds and… we would head out on our bikes,” she said.

That system has now stopped and the letters are now sorted at dedicated centres, usually staffed by workers on temporary contracts who do not have the same level of training as long-term postal workers.

As a result, Cathy’s bag of letters is now “full of mistakes”, she said.

La Poste has told The Connexion that the increase in the employment of temporary workers is a result of the pandemic, but that they are given adequate training.

“In the current context of high circulation of the Covid-19 virus, La Poste has to recruit temporary staff in certain regions in order to fill the gaps,” a spokesperson for the group’s press service said.

“As soon as they take up their posts, these new employees receive theoretical and practical training, enabling them to master the basics of the job and allowing them to work independently at their posts.”

La Poste is also said to be attempting to reduce costs by cutting down on the number of rounds and increasing the length of the remaining ones. It means fewer staff delivering to more houses.

Cathy told Franceinfo this meant that she often struggled to finish her route on time, and that the temporary workers who take over from her are more prone to making mistakes.

La Poste has said that when changing route patterns, it consults with the postal workers to incorporate their experience into decisions.

“Changes in society and in the habits of La Poste's customers mean that the post carriers' routes need to be regularly reviewed in order to adapt them to the local situation,” the spokesperson said.

“To do this, La Poste relies on the expertise of the postal workers, who are specialists in their routes and are best placed to establish a complete analysis of their routes.”

There has been a drop of 20% in the number of letters sent in France over the past year.

At the same time, people have been doing more online shopping. La Poste had an increase of 30% in the number of parcel deliveries in 2020. This means the service is having to give priority to delivering parcels over letters.

The yellow van trick: Fact or fiction?

One postman, named Arnaud and quoted by Franceinfo, said that La Poste has a trick to hide delivery issues and to try and reassure customers.

“When the situation becomes critical, we bring in what we call a ‘super-roller’. They drive around in a yellow post van, not delivering everything. People see the car and think they will probably get their post soon, which reassures them for a few days.

“This is what we call the ‘yellow car effect’ in postal jargon,” he said.

The spokesperson for La Poste categorically denied this.

“The ‘yellow car effect’ does not exist and would constitute an economic and ecological nonsense,” they said.

They added that it would be in total contradiction with the service’s corporate social responsibility commitments.

One goal of La Poste’s CSR pledge is to “accelerate ecological transitions”.

Criticisms remain

The head of consumer rights at the national association Familles de France, Jamy Belkiri, said they have heard from many members about the issue of late or undelivered letters, for example in the Marseille area and in the Paris suburbs.

“One member from Marseille said he’s not had any post for a week and when he went to the post office they said there were a lot of delays because there were no postmen or women, because they were on sick leave or off work, so the mail wasn’t being delivered.

“I’ve written to the director of La Poste, saying ‘it’s not normal, why can’t they take on temporary staff?’

“Others there have complained of waiting for urgent letters that they had not received. One who had been waiting a week was told that there are three or four days’ delay but ‘maybe she’ll have a postman for the round tomorrow’, but nothing more."

She added: “Two or three years ago we also had a lot of complaints about the post, but I’ve noticed at the start of this year it’s started again.

“Unfortunately, public services in general are going downhill. There’s a lack of funding but also simply a lack of will. When someone’s waiting for mail for a week they know it causes difficulties for them. It’s a lack of respect for the customers.”

One Connexion reader recently complained of post they expected to receive from the UK not arriving.

“We have received no mail from the UK since before Christmas - this includes letters and Christmas cards which we have heard were posted well before Christmas,” the reader wrote in an email on January 19.

They also said they had a calendar sent from England on December 7 that has not yet arrived.

“Following a telephone call to the suppliers on January 7, they apologised and agreed to send a replacement. This presumably they did, but we have not received these either.”

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