SINGAPORE - SingPost has been fined $100,000 for failing to meet standards on the delivery of basic letters and registered mail here in 2017, in its highest fine to date.
The margin of failure that year was "significant" compared to previous instances of failing to meet standards and involved nine incidents, the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) said in a statement on Thursday (Feb 7).
In response, SingPost apologised for its service failures and said it has embarked on a fundamental review of its mail operations to raise reliability standards. This includes hiring 100 more postmen and taking steps to help staff cope with their workloads.
Under the regulator's Postal Quality of Service standards, SingPost is required to deliver between 98 and 99 per cent of local basic letters within one working day, and 100 per cent within two working days.
This is among several indicators that come under quarterly review by the IMDA, and falling short can result in a fine up to $50,000 a month for each indicator.
SingPost had failed to meet the requirement of 99 per cent delivery of basic local letters within the central business district by the next working day in May 2017, the IMDA said on Thursday.
The postal service provider also failed to achieve 100 per cent delivery of basic letters by the second working day for five months (January, April, May, October and November) in 2017. It did not achieve this target for registered mail for three months (January, September and November) that year as well.
In assessing SingPost's non-compliance with the standards, IMDA said that it took into account that this was not its first failure, and that the margin of failure for that year was significant compared to previous instances.
Still, SingPost ensured that late deliveries were successfully redelivered within one week, it noted.
.Ms Aileen Chia, IMDA's deputy chief executive and director-general of Telecoms and Post, said: "IMDA expects SingPost to deliver reliable public postal services to consumers and businesses, in compliance with its licence obligations."
The agency has been closely monitoring the performance of SingPost's postal services, and its recent service lapses "indicate gaps in SingPost's processes", she said.
"We require them to implement measures urgently to meet the public's evolving postal needs," said Ms Chia, who added that IMDA will take action against it for any breaches of the public postal licence requirements and standards.
IMDA is assessing SingPost's Quality of Service standards for 2018 and will publish the results by mid-2019. It is also investigating a recent incident of a postman discarding mail.
Responding to IMDA's decision, SingPost's group chief executive officer Paul Coutts said in a statement: "We deeply apologise to our customers for our service failures. We have heard their complaints and feedback; we feel their frustrations and seek to win back their trust.
"The immediate measures we are announcing today will address the most pressing issues and provide improvement in service quality over the next three to six months."
The popularity of e-commerce meant that postmen have had to cope with a significant rise in package deliveries, said SingPost. During the seasonal e-commerce surge in the last few months, each postman on average made between 50 and 60 doorstep deliveries per day, it added.
As a first step, SingPost said it will implement the following measures to help postmen cope with their workloads:
* Hire an additional 100 postmen and redeploy 35 mail-drop drivers to become full-time postmen;
* Enhance postmen's remuneration with incentives for successful deliveries of trackable items to the doorstep. Launched on Feb 1, this will be part of a broader salary structure review to ensure remuneration is better aligned with the requirements of the job and the industry as a whole;
* Reduce missed deliveries by extending mail delivery slots to weekday evenings and on Saturdays, with overtime pay for postmen who volunteer for these after-hours slots;
* Increase the number of dedicated counters and staff at post offices for parcel collection;
* Reduce non-core mail businesses such as advertisement mail
Dr Seshan Ramaswami, associate professor of marketing education at Singapore Management University, said that hiring more delivery staff may prove challenging given competition from food delivery companies, and increasing the distribution of SingPost's POPStations may help to relieve some of the operational burden.
The record fine comes after a string of issues involving delivery issues and lapses in SingPost's service.
The IMDA, which is empowered to modify or suspend SingPost's licence, issue it directions and set standards of performance under the Postal Services Act, had last month expressed concerns over the mail carrier's spate of lapses, and vowed to take action against violators of the Act.
A postman was arrested in January when unopened letters and packages meant for Ang Mo Kio residents were found discarded in a rubbish bin.
SingPost had referred the case to the police after internal investigations, and apologised to residents of the 17 Housing Board blocks that the postman had served.
Just weeks before that, Facebook user Andy Lau claimed that a deliveryman left a note at his doorstep and ran off after knocking at his door for a few seconds.
The postman seemed unable to give an explanation for his actions when confronted, Mr Lau added in the Dec 26 post that went viral.
His post prompted other social media users to share their experiences of lost or delayed letters and packages through SingPost.
The postal service provider apologised to customers last month for its service failures, blaming them on a busy year-end peak season that was "beyond forecasts and expectations" and the actions of a few employees.
It said that the larger volume of packages meant that its postmen had to make an extra 20 doorstep deliveries on average daily, as well as work beyond their usual hours.
The company said then that it was taking a "serious look at the issues that have surfaced in recent weeks" and would review and improve operational procedures.
The same month, a business owner who had paid SingPost $7,000 to print and distribute flyers was refunded after it was discovered that the flyers had not been distributed and there had been lapses in its own investigations.
SingPost was fined $10,000 in 2013 for falling short of the regulator's postal quality of service standards.
A year later, it incurred its largest fine of $30,000 for having up to 500 pieces of mail stolen while left unattended.
SingPost, which is backed by Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, has been growing its e-commerce capabilities amid declining mail volume.
It is also digitising its mail operations, with the launch of its SmartPost suite of postal solutions last year.
Since January, its 1,000 postmen have been using a mobile app in conjunction with Near Field Communication tags installed at 15,000 delivery points to help in delivery tracking and e-signing for registered mail.
SingPost processes an average of three million mail items a day.
This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.