The Environment of Labour: Living & Working Conditions

"Collective Security" -- A mask for corporate interests, postal workers say

Shunpiking Magazine. December-January, 2002, No. 40

In one of several mass actions, Halifax postal workers demonstrated on November 21 and again on December 18 in defence of their rights to refuse unsafe work

Postal workers discuss their concerns about their security

ANTHRAX - Much hysteria has been circulating in North America since September 11. Much of it has had little basis in fact, but one threat that has made postal workers justifiably wary is the anthrax scare. At least five people have died in the US from exposure to anthrax which was delivered through the mail. CHARLES SPURR writes that it is entirely reasonable that Canadian postal workers should be concerned about handling mail in suspicious packages from the US.

Despite real concerns and the well-known right of workers to refuse work which they consider hazardous, Canada Post has refused to allow testing for possible anthrax contamination or to take adequate precautions such as gloves and masks at its postal sorting station on Almon Street in Halifax. Instead the corporation's Manager of letter mail stated that, since there has not been an anthrax related death in Canada, the mail is safe to work. Since November 9 it has arbitrarily suspended three postal workers who complained about this potential hazard.

The Nova local of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers has responded with a series of pickets, and other actions to defend the health and safety of its workers.

"Canada Post security officers are hand-delivering 'suspicious' letters in metro, even though the Crown corporation is refusing to get a Halifax mail-sorting plant tested for anthrax."
The latest picket took place December 18 outside the provincial Department of Health on Hollis Street in Halifax. There were about 25 participants who came out in freezing rain to voice their concerns.

In addition to postal workers, representatives of several other unions, Rick Clark, president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour, and a local book publisher came out to show their support. The union's message is being brought to the Health Department to try to put more pressure on Canada Post to allow tests.

Participants stressed that the right to refuse unsafe work was being violated. One speaker pointed out that the government is spending millions on such things as armed sky marshals on airplanes but does not bother about the safety of workers because they view them as expendable like the office computer. If there was a suspicion of anthrax in the Prime Minister's Office, they were saying, every possible precaution would be taken immediately. Speakers also denounced the anti-terrorism bill, C-36, as an act to take away our rights while government refuses to guarantee workers' security.

Similar concerns have been raised by postal workers and other mail handlers across the country.

On October 25 and 26 postal workers at the Scarborough depot were sent home early after mail contaminated with some unidentified powder, but none of the workers were given medical tests at the time.

Canada Post also resisted demands for rubber gloves and other appropriate safety equipment on the grounds that would pass extra cost onto its corporate clients.

Postal workers at the South Central sorting station, also in Toronto, were evacuated for three hours on October 15 when several improperly addressed envelopes were discovered. One was leaking an unidentified powdery substance.

Again there were no tests for any potential health hazard, and workers still do not know what that powdery substance was.

In a press dispatch on November 29 the Canadian Union of Postal Workers reported that Wayne Mundle, national director, offered to pay for independent testing of the Halifax plant to determine if there had been any cross-contamination of anthrax spores. Canada Post has ignored this offer saying that unless a government department of health says that testing is nessessary they will not allow it.

At the same time the Daily News reported that "Canada Post security officers are hand-delivering 'suspicious' letters in metro, even though the Crown corporation is refusing to get a Halifax mail-sorting plant tested for anthrax."(11/29/01)

Letters which have no return address and no postal code fall into the category of "suspicious" and are wrapped in plastic before being hand-delivered.

The motto of CUPW is "all for one and one for all." The issues raised by the Halifax postal workers are important, and much larger than just those concerned.

It seems that at a time when the federal government is waxing eloquent about "collective security" in hunting down real and imagined terrorists at the expense of civil liberties, the real concern, represented by Canada Post and others, is protecting its corporate interests and finding ways to criminalize dissent.

Double-standards which treat workers as second class citizens whose rights and peace of mind can be trampled under foot at the convenience of vested interests are insupportable. They are the creators of all the wealth in society and the essence of its being. Stepping up the work to put the full weight of their numbers and organization in defence of their rights is a task of great importance.

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Copyright New Media Services Inc. 2004. The views expressed herein are the writers' own and do not necessarily reflect those of shunpiking magazine or New Media Publications.