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Scott Rochfort
April 20, 2009

A BATTLE is brewing between Australia Post’s top brass and its army of 35,000 postal workers amid union accusations the government-owned enterprise is preparing to force staff to take unpaid leave.

The Communications, Electrical and Plumbing Union (CEPU) has warned it is considering industrial action amid signs the postal carrier is seeking sacrifices from its workforce to help tackle the impact of the economic slowdown.

“It’s getting to crunch time,” said the union’s NSW secretary, Jim Metcher, who said the $1 million cash bonus paid to Australia Post’s managing director Graeme John last year was particularly galling for his members. Mr John’s overall package for the year was $2.9 million, up 9 per cent on the previous 12 months.

The top seven executives at Australia Post received $2.6 million in cash bonuses last financial year.

Mr Metcher said the union had received calls from workers in Sydney who had been asked to take unpaid leave.

“People were strong-armed to take leave without pay in two-week blocks,” Mr Metcher said.

Australia Post has denied this. But an Australia Post spokesman did confirm the company had held meetings with staff, highlighting the impact of the financial crisis on its profits.

“There’s been informal chats around the business that there will be tough times for everyone,” he said.

However, the spokesman denied the union’s claims that staff had already been asked to take leave. He argued there was actually a shortage of postal workers in some areas.

One area where Australia Post could be feeling the pinch from the economic slowdown is in its express freight and parcel joint ventures with Qantas.

The spokesman, however, dismissed rumours the mail carrier had already warned staff it would post a $300 million loss this financial year. It reported a $432 million net profit last financial year.

But it is clear relations between Australia Post and the union have hit rock bottom.

The union has already raised concerns — which Australia Post has denied — that hundreds of postal workers have had compensation claims unfairly rejected by the company.

The CEPU, which is in enterprise bargaining talks with Australia Post, has also raised objections over the company’s shift towards hiring part-time or casual staff.

“I’m actually advocating that we take unprotected industrial action to reach agreement over these two issues (worker’s compensation claims and full-time staff),” Mr Metcher said.

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