Laudator: Rena Tangens, FoeBuD e.V.

The BigBrotherAward in the category "Work" goes to the Deutsche Post AG representing its subsidiary company

"Deutsche Post-Shop GmbH"

The reason for this are their new employment contracts that the Deutsche Post-Shop GmbH wants to press upon certain licencees. In these contracts the licenced employees are urged to give unconditional consent to dispensing doctors that have been selected by the Deutsche Post-Shop GmbH from their duty of confidentiality when the employees report sick for longer than two weeks.

Background: For years the German post has been retiring from the rural areas and the suburbs and closing down the classic post-offices. In many places the provision of postal functions have been taken over by so called post-shops, i.e. acting agents like grocery shops, petrol stations, and retailers of all kinds , who offer postal services in addition to their regular offerings. Now the German post wants to lay hands on the logistic network of the Quelle AG, a German mail order shop that also has stores in a number of towns, and offers people who run a "Quelle-Shop" to take on postal services as an addition to their regular offers - in the form of a part-time job.

In article 5, section 4, of the contracts that operators of a Quelle-Shop are supposed to sign it says: "In case of illness of more than 2 weeks the employee will have himself examined by a doctor chosen by the employer [the Deutsche Post-Shop GmbH] ... The employee hereby releases this doctor from his duty of confidentiality in so far as is necessary for the assessment of the employees inability to work. "

The concluding sentence "... in so far as is necessary for the assessment of the employees inability to work" was supplemented only after massive protests from the Postagenturnehmer-Verband Deutschland e.V. (i.e. the association of takers of postal agency licences} and the Interessenverband Quelle-Shops e.V. (i.e. the association of operators of Quelle-Shops}. This supplement does not solve the problem, however, but shows that the Post-Shop GmbH obviously has not occupied itself with the legal regulations about medical examinations with respect to the working world. Never and nowhere in Germany is it necessary that an employer gets confidential information from a doctor in order to assess an employee's ability to work . This assessment is left to the doctors alone. The reasons for this assessment are no concern of the employer. The above article therefore constitutes a massive infringement of patients' and employees' rights.

It can be assumed that the German post, as a former state office, designs its employment contracts along the lines of the Bundesangestellten-Tarifvertrag, BAT, i.e. the official wage agreement for public clerks and employees. Thus, the jury of the German Big Brother Award has meanwhile got quite a number of letters arguing that this regulation were common practice, especially mentioned in article 7 of the BAT, which is concerned with medical examinations of employees. But neither in that article itself nor in the commentaries have we found any mention of a release of doctors from their obligation to secrecy. Also, lawyers from the trade union "ver.di" specialising in labour legislatoin, as well as the independent solicitor Dr. Hartmut Stracke confirm that the BAT does not state anything of the kind. And yet even the former trade union leader Monika Wulf-Matthies, meanwhile on the pay list of the Deutsche Post AG, insists that this regulation could be found in the BAT. She of all people should know the BAT, and as intimately as almost nobody else - this is just impertinent!

But now for the beef: An employee, according to the BAT, does have to prove his fitness for a specific job through examination by a doctor that is appointed by the employer. Granted.

It is a matter of course, howerver, that the doctor is bound to his obligation to secrecy, that means he is allowed only to state whether there are any medical reasons why the person in question is fit to fill a certain position or not. He must not disclose any particulars about his assessment or diagnosis. He is even bound to take care that he doesn't accidentally or indirectly open ways to inferences about his diagnosis. Therefore the part of the respective form letter that the employer gets does not show a diagnosis. Furthermore an employer can demand that an employee be examined by a doctor appointed by the health insurance company. But again the employer will not get any information about the actual diagnosis. In all, it is clear that employees are expressly protected through the doctor's obligation to secrecy.

The Deutsche Post AG wants to undermine this with a sweeping signature under its employment contract. It demands to have this signature from small licence takers who work only a few hours per day as post agents in their "Quelle Shops" on the basis of a part time job. The jury of the Big Brother Award thinks that this is utterly impertinent and inproportionate.

In a letter to the jury the Deutsche Post AG argues that a detailed assessment of the unfitness of the employees were necessary for the post, in order to fulfill its legal obligation to provide blanket services. This seems downright cynical, looking at the above mentioned policy that the Deutsche Post AG has been following during the past years. For years it has been closing down post offices. The general services to the general public have steadily been growing worse. Letter boxes have been decimated by and by. The Deutsche Post AG calls this "letter box optimation" - this euphemism has already been shortlisted for the "Unwort des Jahres" award 2003, the annual award for spin-doctoring and other kinds of language abuse.

The Deutsche Post AG wants to fulfill its legal obligation with the help of Quelle-Shops? This will hardly be feasible, for according to information from the Quelle licence takers their contracts to run a Quelle-Shop have been sweepingly cancelled in the meantime. This means that the future of postal services to the public is endangered by its dependence on decisions of the Quelle Corporation. And having postal services in all their extensiveness being carried out by people who work part time is not really proof of the Deutsche Post AG taking its obligation all too seriously.

The management consulting firm McKinsey has declared efficiency the top principle - that means making as much money as possible with the least possible effort. That, in turn, means that everything is regulated by cost. But quality of life, a basic claim for maintenance, environmental protection, workers rights, and also data protection are a nuisance and cost money. Are, therefore, not efficient.

5 out of 8 members of the board of directors of the Deutsche Post AG are former McKinseyans.

Congratulations, Deutsche Post AG