Postal workers stand up for right to sit down

Issue 

BY SUE BOLTON

MELBOURNE — Postal workers took their anger at the bullying tactics of Australia Post to the streets on August 24. It was a warning to AP that postal workers were ready to fight to reverse a policy that disallows workers in AP shops from sitting behind the counter while serving customers.

In January, management removed chairs and stools, used by around 50 counter staff, from AP retail shops. Many of the workers are older or suffer from medical conditions. They must now cope with the pain of standing all day. Some have had to resort to painkillers or cortisone injections.

Victorian secretary of the Communication Workers Union's postal and telecommunications branch Joan Doyle said that AP management is "cruelly trying to force staff who are unable to work standing up out of a job".

Management argues that since post offices are now "retail shops", workers should spend most of their time trying to sell products rather than remain behind the counter. However, postal workers at the protest pointed out that only 10% of their time involves work that does not require them to be behind the counter.

AP management also argues that there is not enough room behind the counters for chairs. However, Doyle charged that management is deliberately building new counters so that chairs can't fit behind them.

AP is continuing to implement the policy, despite the fact that the federal court ruled on July 23 that AP had indirectly discriminated against a Sydney postal worker, Sarah Daghlian, in contravention of the Disability Discrimination Act.

In 2001, AP removed Daghlian's stool, which she had used for 11 years while working behind the counter at the Manly post office. Daghlian, who suffers from osteoarthritis, was forced to take sick leave and long service leave, and when that ran out, she was forced into medical retirement.

AP now faces a bill for compensation and legal costs of up to $250,000 for its action.

The intimidatory atmosphere in which AP employees work was reflected by the fact that many protesters were unwilling to have their photographs taken. Workers are subject to disciplinary action, including the sack or fines, if they talk about AP to the media.

From Green Left Weekly, September 3, 2003.

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