France's posties take bosses to cleaners with £100m laundry bill

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The Independent Online

The French have a reputation for dressing impeccably, and many a soirée is followed by a pricey dry-cleaning bill, which is exactly what the French Post Office may be about to get. La Poste fears it could have to pick up a €115m (£103.5m) tab for le pressing after a Toulouse court ruled it should pay for 12 postal workers to keep their uniforms spotless.

The 11 postwomen and one postman from Tarn in south-west France originally took La Poste to court in 2008, arguing that the cost for looking their best at work should not come out of their household budget. They lost the first case, but the appeal court has now decided to award them €5 a week to cover cleaning costs. Backdated over five years this adds up to €1,150 for each image-conscious worker.

Now the unions are now pushing for it to become applicable across France. If all 100,000 postal workers in France decide to claim refunds for five years of trips to le pressing, the final bill could total €115m. Nadine Capdebosc, from the CFDT trade union federation, is delighted. "We've been asking La Poste to pay for dry-cleaning of uniforms for a long time now, because waterproof uniforms are very difficult to machine-wash." But Bruno Serizay, La Poste's lawyer, complained that the cleaning costs were "exaggerated". He pointed out that postal workers are not actually required to wear a full uniform, only a "distinctive sign" to prove they are a genuine postman, especially when entering elderly people's homes. This could be as little as a badge pin of La Poste's arrow-shaped logo.

Disgruntled managers explained that each worker already has a €139 annual budget and free choice from La Poste's uniform catalogue, filled with a wide range of items in traditional blue and yellow postal colours. French householders could open their door to a postman sporting anything from a beret to a tank top, or even a ski-style balaclava.

Luckily for the company, the workers' second demand – to be paid extra for the estimated six minutes it takes to get dressed and undressed each day – was rejected by the court. Régis Blanchot, of the post and telecoms union, Sud-PTT, said: "Considering our salaries and the latest pay talks, any extra money is good news".