COVID-19: Lack of planes flying has huge impact on Australia Post

Man wearing Australia Post cap
Ashley Marshall

The impact of COVID-19 on Australia Post has been huge.

On the one hand, their letters business has declined significantly, more than even they expected. On the other, their e-commerce business and parcel volumes have increased to unprecedented levels; averaging almost two million parcels per-day since just before Easter.

Managing these business shifts while also trying to keep Australia Post staff, and the country, safe from the threat of COVID-19 isn’t an easy job.

Ashley Marshall did an MBA at Southern Cross University, completing it in 2004. He is now the Acting General Manager, Government at Australia Post. He says the increase in parcel volume for all market segments is similar to what Australia Post usually experiences around Christmas time and during online sales such as Black Friday and Boxing Day: “More than we have ever processed”.

“Social distancing in our processing facilities also means that we are unable to simply put on more staff, like we would do during peak volume periods such as Christmas.  Normally we have time to prepare for a Christmas peak. In this case, volumes have soared in a matter of weeks,” said Mr Marshall.

At the same time, the postal service’s capacity to deliver these parcels has been greatly reduced by the grounding of passenger airlines, which would normally carry 700 tonnes of parcels every week.

To keep up with the demand Australia Post has chartered an additional eight freighter flights, bringing them up to 17 flights per day. Although this has improved their express post across major capital cities, it does not fully compensate for reduced access to capacity on passenger planes; and they cannot ensure the speed of deliveries at the same level as prior to the pandemic.

“The majority of parcels are still arriving on time, but Australia Post asks and thanks our customers for their patience, as we work as hard as we can to get parcels to you as quickly as possible,” said Mr Marshall.

To this end Australia post has repurposed and opened 15 new processing facilities and commenced recruitment for 600 casuals. They have simultaneously had to implement social distancing and zoning policies in their processing facilities and distributed more than 300,000 bottles of hand sanitiser, 600,000 pairs of disposable gloves and 150,000 face masks to their staff.

Selfless acts

Mr Marshall said it’s a privilege to be part of a great Australian icon that's working hard to serve our community and our nation.

“We have seen some amazing selfless acts by our staff and teams across the business, just going that extra mile for our customers. Such brilliant teamwork. In times of crisis our people really rise and go above and beyond.”

Australia Post has also started operating their facilities across each weekend, and have drivers out on the road delivering on weekends.

The postal service is ensuring essential products are reaching those in need such as pharmacy home deliveries, critical health equipment and food – they have partnerships with Coles and Woolworths.

“We support Australian businesses and government customers in delivering products to their customers in a safe manner, helping them stay in business and connected to their communities,” said Mr Marshall.

“We remain open for businesses (including nearly all Post Offices) to offer critical services of deliveries, payments, banking (new - business loan referrals) and identity documents.”

COVID lessons

The main lessons that Mr Marshall says he has learnt from the COVID-19 experience are these:

“Our people matter the most, we are a people business.”

“Take nothing for granted, expect the unexpected and most of all make sure your people are safe and well. It's critical to take the time to check-in, on a daily basis, with each of our team members and to ensure that they, in turn, are checking-in with their direct reports and so on.”

“As letter volumes continue to fall, we announced last week that we will change the frequency of metropolitan letter deliveries to every second day. This will free up posties to be retrained and redeployed into delivery vans to help process parcels.”

Retraining 2000 posties is all part of a broader Australia Post push to transform the business, while also managing significant disruption brought about by different lifestyles under COVID-19 restrictions. 

“Australia Post is continuing to look at ways to optimise their delivery network to meet the current unprecedented demand of parcel volumes,” said Mr Marshall adding that if there was one thing he would ask all alumni to do now, it would be to start planning for our future.

“It’s important to remember we're Australians and we will get through this together.  There will be life after COVID-19, albeit different to that which we have experienced in the past.  As SCU alumni, it's important that we as leaders, carve out time to think about what shape and direction we want for our tomorrow.  Now is a great time to start planning and designing what that might look like for our organisations, our customers and our people,” he said.