Italian unions urge post office to cut workload after coronavirus kills two

MILAN (Reuters) – Italian unions urged the national post office Poste Italiane (PST.MI) on Wednesday to cut the number of people at work and make sure that all employees have face masks and plastic gloves after two of them died from the coronavirus.

Italy has emerged as the worst-hit country outside China with 35,713 confirmed cases and 2,978 deaths as of Wednesday.

The government last week ordered the nationwide closure of restaurants, bars and almost all shops except for food stores and chemists, telling Italians to stay home except for emergencies.

Italian banks have shut some branches and drastically cut opening hours but Poste – Italy’s biggest employer with an extensive network in a country with 8,000 small towns – had until now pledged to remain open and fully operational.

It said in a statement on its website on Wednesday it was reducing opening hours for its branches and reorganizing shifts for postmen to avoid having several of them together inside its mail and parcel dispatching centers.

Italy’s government has allowed companies to stay open provided they can comply with safety measures and urged them to have staff work remotely as much as possible.

Postal services ranging from mail and parcel delivery to payments of bills and pensions are considered essential.

So are banking services. The sector’s unions on Wednesday called for a two-week shutdown of all bank branches.

In a joint statement, eight unions representing Poste employees asked Italian utilities to delay bill payment deadlines by a month to reduce the workload for post offices and cut the number Poste staff working.

The state-controlled group has nearly 130,000 staff and 13,000 branches.

“Poste’s employees are forced to work at unchanged rates and volumes, and mostly without the necessary protective equipment and the mandatory sanitization of offices and cars,” USB union said, asking the group to step up safety measures.

The government will start paying pensions a few days ahead of the traditional end-of-the-month deadline in an effort to avoid queues at post offices, Labor Minister Nunzia Catalfo told La7 TV-channel this week.

Reporting by Francesca Landini; editing by Nick Macfie

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