Victorian postal workers have won a two-week moratorium on unsafe delivery methods while attempting to resolve a health and safety dispute with Australia Post that started in August. Their union believes Australia Post is preparing to roll out the system across Australia.
About 44 posties were stood down without pay by Australia Post at its Airport West and Mount Waverley Delivery Centres in September, after they refused to carry out a new delivery system that increases risks to health and safety on the job.
Australia Post took the action, accusing postal workers of engaging in unprotected industrial action. But postal workers are relying on Section 21 of the Commonwealth OHS Act (1991), which protects them from having to undertake work that is less safe.
Their stance is backed up by a Shaw Idea study of the proposed Separate Bundle Delivery system undertaken during a trial in 2010.
Normally, postal workers sort all their mail into a single bundle in order of delivery at their centre, and then deliver the sorted mail on motorbikes, bicycles or on foot (a single bundle delivery system).
But under the proposed Separate Bundle delivery system (SBD), they would take out different bundles of mail, which they would have to combine while on their motorbikes as they deliver.
Postal workers rallied in Melbourne’s CBD on August 17 calling for “Zero SBD”, and have letter-boxed residents with messages and postcards to build support for their campaign.
The secretary of the Communication Workers Union (CWU) Victoria, Joan Doyle told Green Left Weekly that the proposed system means posties are outdoors in the elements for longer.
Doyle said: “The proposed system is fraught with dangers to workers including being at increased risk of being backed into while stationary in driveways, more accidents during peak traffic periods, injury from prolonged periods on the back of a motorbike, strain injuries from twisting, bending and stretching, distraction from road hazards sorting mail while riding.”
The union’s website says between the July 12 and the August 12, “in the South East Region alone there were a total of 67 motorbike injuries” to postal workers, “including eight collisions and eight accidents at blind driveways”.
These figures do not account for the increased dangers of SBD, which the CWU says “will put posties at those driveways for much longer and increase risks of other injuries and accidents”.
Doyle told GLW the new system is “half baked … It is making a difficult and dangerous job even more dangerous.”
The CWU and Australia Post undertook external mediation to try to resolve the dispute. The mediator — former High Court Judge Michael Kirby — made several non-binding recommendations, including maintaining the “status quo” and a trial-run comparing cost, safety and customer service between SBD, and traditional delivery.
Due to the non-binding nature of the mediation process, Australia Post refused to settle the dispute, and the CWU is now seeking to have the matter arbitrated in Fair Work Australia.
Australia Post CEO Ahmed Fahour met with postal workers on September 29. Twenty-one posties (eleven nominated by the union and ten nominated by management) attended the meeting. All were highly critical of SBD.
Following the meeting, Australia Post’s General Manager Human Resources Catherine Walsh agreed that in return for the union encouraging employees to return to work Australia Post would place a halt on the further roll out of SBD for two weeks until October 24.
This would provide for a temporary cessation of the training and rollout of SBD on any further rounds across Australia until then. It also allows for a review as to whether SBD provides any cost savings, and whether the serious health and safety concerns raised by the posties can be addressed.
But according to the union, the postal workers who were stood down (some for up to six weeks) have been told they can only do normal single bundle delivery if they move to other delivery facilities, and some are being forced back to unsafe work.
The union says that Australia Post is trying to punish people for refusing to perform unsafe work. Doyle insists that Australia Post is forcing workers to choose between their current job and their own safety.
The union was forced to begin action in the federal court to prevent Australia Post from standing down Kavina Grant, a push-bike postie at the Western delivery centre. She had refused to carry out SBD on the basis it was having a bad effect on her back. With arbitration now pending, the court action has since been withdrawn.
[The union has set up a welfare fund to support stood-down workers. Cheques or money orders can be sent to: PO Box 1052, North Melbourne 3051. Payments by credit card can be made by phone on (03) 9600 9100. Online payments can be made to ANZ – BSB: 013377 Account No: 5302 53435. Please notify the union of your donation by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org ]