PostNL engages continuously with regulators, oversight bodies and other stakeholders about events and other regulatory developments that impact the company, and on those areas in which we impact society. This section outlines the main regulatory compliance areas, including those listed in the summary above, that impacted PostNL during 2021.
The Postal Decree 2009 prescribes a next-day delivery level of 95% for consumer mail, funeral announcements and medical mail. In 2019 and 2020, PostNL realised a score of 94%, just short of the target level. PostNL is required by to report these scores to the ACM.
2019 was a special year in which PostNL was permitted to take over Sandd. The scoring was on track but was heavily affected in the last quarter by the unexpected breakdown of the Sandd network, although all efforts were made to keep the Sandd network fully functional until 1 February 2020. The period after the closing of the transaction on October 22 was necessary for a careful integration of Sandd employees and customers. The unexpected breakdown of the network at the end of 2019 led to substantially more Sandd volume in the PostNL network than had been planned, which influenced our performance. Nevertheless, ACM imposed a fine of €2 million. PostNL considers that ACM has insufficiently taken on board the one-time circumstances in 2019. The only alternative open to PostNL at the time was to leave a large proportion of the Sandd network mail untouched, which would have resulted in many undelivered letters. PostNL chose not to follow this alternative, as consumers expect an accessible, reliable and affordable postal service. That is why PostNL is appealing the decision issued by ACM.
We are proud to have given continuous service in 2020 despite the challenging adjustments we had to make to ensure safe working conditions during the diverse phases of the COVID-19 pandemic. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on this quality performance indicator has been discussed with ACM. On 28 December 2021, ACM published its decision on the quality of service for 2020. Regarding the next day delivery, ACM concludes there are sufficient leads to determine that the situation was beyond PostNL's control and ACM will refrain from taking any measures.
At Mail in the Netherlands, we delivered 94% of consumer mail by the next delivery day in 2021, below the regulatory requirement of 95%. Our quality levels were affected in a number of ways throughout the year. Extreme weather conditions, mainly in February, impacted our service, as did the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic as we had to make challenging adjustments to our processes and faced higher absenteeism levels. Meanwhile, the strict lockdown at the beginning and end of 2021 led to retail outlets closing or operating with reduced opening hours, which had an impact on our planning and quality. Despite these challenges, we are proud of the tremendous efforts of our people to continue our mail service throughout the entire year. Our focus is to return to delivery quality levels of 95% or higher as quickly as possible. However, as of publication date of this report, we are still dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic. This inevitably has consequences for our processes, as we continue to put the safety of our people first. We have also seen that consumer behaviour is less predictable during the lockdowns, which we have to respond to.
At the beginning of 2022 we had higher levels of sick leave because of the Omicron variant. Going forward, we will continue to make our processes as capable as possible of absorbing major shifts in supply and demand, while communicating clearly and transparently to customers and consumers about changes or developments.
PostNL is in regular dialogue and collaboration with the Dutch labour inspectorate throughout the year, discussing developments in labour regulations and inspections both within PostNL and among its delivery partners, to which we outsource some operational activities.
At Parcels in the Netherlands, we have been implementing a range of initiatives to improve labour practices as well as compliance with laws and regulations in our value chain for a number of years. One example is the switch from self-employed deliverers to professional delivery partners employing deliverers through labour contracts. A second example is developing and implementing a programme to structurally assess compliance with the Labour Market Fraud Act (Wet Aanpak Schijnconstructies) at all delivery partners we work with through independent audits on labour contracts and payment in accordance with applicable collective labour agreements.
The learnings from our own assessment results as well as feedback from the labour inspectorate help us to keep improving our controls.
In 2019 the labour inspectorate noted several breaches with the Foreign Nationals Employment Act (Wet Arbeid Vreemdelingen) at some of our delivery partners. Despite PostNL not being the legal employer of the employees concerned, we are accountable for labour practices as part of the chain of responsibility. The breaches related to people without legal status in the Netherlands and people without identification papers. Based on the findings, the labour inspectorate imposed a fine of €288,000 on PostNL in 2021. We have filed an objection against the decision of the labour inspectorate. In light of the case outlined above, we have started implementing additional measures across our operations in collaboration with our partners. To prevent any recurrence of such situations, we have for example increased our control on identity checks of truck drivers. We also maintain close contact with the inspectorate to discuss the developments in this area.
The sharp growth in e-commerce services we provide in Belgium has been reflected in both the number of delivery routes we operate and our exposure in the country. As we have chosen for a model where delivery partners distribute our parcels for us, this has led to an increase in the number of delivery routes performed by the delivery partners we work with.
Currently, around 80% of the 1,400 deliverers that distribute our parcels in Belgium are employed. They work for the 220 Belgian companies we have entered into a sustainable partnership with to realise delivery. We only work with companies that work in accordance with all applicable laws and regulations, and as a commissioning company, we provide fair compensation and offering sustainable partnerships. Although this works well in the vast majority of cases, in 2021 the labour inspectorate in Belgium noted alleged breaches with applicable social laws and regulations while carrying out their inspections. Based on their findings, charges were filed against PostNL for false self-employment, illegal posting of workers, as well as being an accomplice for not paying social contributions in these cases. This is despite PostNL not being the employer of the people concerned. The court hearing in these cases is expected in the third quarter of 2022.
We have many controls in place in relation to the cooperation with our delivery partners but as a result of the inspection, and in consultation with the labour inspectorate, we have further increased our control efforts and implemented them. Examples include access control at our premises for each delivery partner employee and checking the delivery partners' employees' registration at the government agency for social contributions. We like to emphasize that the vast majority of our delivery partners are professional and apply the same standards on social compliance as PostNL. When we detect non-compliance, this may lead, and only in a limited number of cases actually has led, to cancellation of our collaboration.