UNI Global Union affiliate, the Austrian Postal Union (Gewerkschaft der Post und Fernmeldebediensteten, GPF), is calling for an end to the use of temporary employment agencies at all Austrian post facilities following an outbreak of Covid-19 at two parcel distribution and sorting centres in Vienna and Lower-Austria.
Temporary workers, recruited by agencies, started working without proper health and safety measures (face masks, disinfectant, gloves or social distancing) by the postal operator. These conditions led to the spread of coronavirus at the parcel sorting facilities, which were consequently closed for 14 days in May. All permanent staff were sent into quarantine and due to a lack of staff, the Austrian Army had to step in to disinfect and logistical follow up services.
“Our long-standing demand for all parts of postal operations to have sufficient in-house staff instead of temporary workers is absolutely justified and correct due to the numerous corona incidents within the Austrian Post,” said Helmut Köstinger, president of GPF. “In the long term, a good service for our customers can only be provided by our own staff. For postal employees, it is not only a job but a sense of duty and service, and temporary workers aren’t given the time and security to cultivate that. The entire trade union movement needs to devote more attention to the issue of temporary work, as we fight precarious employment more than ever before.”
In many countries, such as Austria, e-commerce has boomed during the lockdown and parcel volumes are as high as the Christmas season. Instead of employing more staff to cope with the additional workload, around 70 per cent of postal operators globally are using precarious forms of employment such as self-employed, subcontracted or temporary agency workers to outsource some activities and save costs.
Postal services are not low-skilled services. This has been proven many times in this pandemic as the post workers not only delivers letters and parcels but also provides social and community services to the population.
“What we can conclude from this incident is that, on the one hand governments must ensure postal services are financed in a way that ensure good working conditions and decent salaries for all postal workers. Quality postal services can only be provided by well-trained full-time employed quality postal workers,” says Cornelia Berger, head of UNI Post&Logistics. “And on the other hand, that temporary work agencies have to follow certain health, safety and security standards. They must guarantee social protection and sufficient income to ensure people can stay home when they are feeling sick and can afford decent living conditions for themselves and their families. It is a shame that Austrian Post is taking advantage of the desperation of the poorest in our society.”
“It’s alarming that Austrian Post is risking the lives of all its employees, permanent and temporary, by capitalizing on cheap labour. We urge the company to adopt a business model based on a permanent and well-trained workforce that is robust enough to provide a continuity of service during times of crisis,” said Christy Hoffman, UNI General Secretary.
UNI Post&Logistics has consistently raised the importance of using well-trained, full-time staff both globally and on a European level with the current #SaveOurPost campaign. It will be an important aspect of our policy on what we have learned from COVID19 and how to prepare post for crisis.