Fran, who is the area distribution rep and works at Exeter mail centre, has had his pay docked and been threatened with disciplinary action because he was off sick!
Fran had originally asked for time off to attend two union meetings. All other union reps were released but Fran’s release was refused on the grounds that his job could not be covered.
Fran did not attend the meetings.
The next day, Wednesday of last week, Fran fell ill - he suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma.
He was off for three days and fulfilled all the correct procedures of informing management. While he was still off, and without any contact to discuss the matter, he received a letter saying that management did not believe that his sickness was genuine, that he would have to immediately attend a disciplinary hearing on his return, and that his pay would be docked for the time he was off.
This was completely against normal procedure.
Fran wrote a response stressing his innocence of all these charges and came back to work. Without any prompting from Fran, at 11am on Tuesday this week, some 30 workers in his drivers’ section sat in and refused to work until Fran’s money was restored and the charges against him dropped.
They also wanted action against bullying and harassment by management.
Meetings between union reps and managers produced no progress and later on Tuesday the whole mail centre, some 350 workers, came out on strike.
Some postal workers whose place of work is Exeter airport picketed it on Tuesday and turned away mail. This has led to further threats of disciplinary action and accusations that the union is organising secondary action - which it isn’t.
The tone of management towards Fran has also implied, quite wrongly, that he has been organising illegal action.
Plymouth postal workers have refused to handle Exeter mail, and Bristol SWDC (which handles bulk mail) has also not touched it. Drivers from other offices have refused to cross picket lines at Exeter.
This is an important battle for union rights. There is a history of attacks on the CWU in this area. Plymouth and East Cornwall branch secretary Jeff Thomas was disciplined earlier this year after entirely legal action in his office.
Every office should give Exeter the fullest possible support. Action must continue until Fran’s money is restored, the charges against him are dropped and management’s behaviour is investigated.
In the past refusal to handle the mail of strike-bound offices and solidarity walkouts have proved effective.
A mass meeting of 300 Exeter postal workers tonight rejected the latest offer from management. Bosses had eventually consented to talk to national CWU officials, but early hopes that this might signal a decent offer were dashed.
The meeting was told that management would not at this stage guarantee Fran Choules would be paid for the three days he was off sick, one of the key issues which had led to the walkout.
In addition the proposed return to work agreement had totally unacceptable punitive clauses. These included new restrictive regulations on scheduled attendance (pre-arranged overtime), new curbs on workers’ ability to swap shifts and, most significant of all, “aligning work to functions“. Local CWU union officials said this would mean 30 jobs going out of the distribution function’s platform and warehouse work and just five extra created in the processing function.
The distribution function is Fran’s area which mangemetn clealry see as a "hotbed of militanc" and therefore to be singled out for attacks.
The meeting restated its resolve to fight on for justice and to defend union rights. Strikers were buoyed up by messages of support from branches across the country.
One striker told Socialist Worker, “There is a great atmosphere on the picket line with young and old, men and women all involved.
“But now we need other branches to take action to support us and make management drop these punishment clauses, pay Fran the money he’s due and lift the disciplinary moves.”
Talks were due to restart on Friday morning. Solidarity is vital to win this key battle.
Send messages of solidarity to CWU South West No 1 branch which covers Exeter at firstname.lastname@example.org or fax 01392 448225