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Junk-mail company tracks staff by satellite

Nick O'Malley / SMH | October 29 2006

IT USED to be such a simple job.

The 14-year-old girl would pick up the pamphlets at a warehouse in Artarmon and deliver them around Lane Cove.

Not any more. One Saturday recently she turned up at the warehouse to find that she would have to strap a global positioning system around her waist.

Her employers would be able to track every step she took, ensuring not only that she visited every house she was paid to, but that she followed the route devised by management to save time, and that she did the deliveries within the set time frame. Instead she quit.

By the end of next month every delivery person, or "walker", handing out flyers in Sydney for PMP, the country's largest distributor of unaddressed mail, will be tracked by satellite.

The walker who spoke to the Herald, and who did not want to be named, said she felt as though her employers did not trust her.

"My parents think it's stupid. They think it's bad that a tracking device has to be issued just for delivering pamphlets," she said.

The secretary of Unions NSW, John Robertson, is so angered by the use of GPS to track workers that he has called for the NSW Government to amend the Workplace Surveillance Act to have it outlawed.

"It's outrageous that the first experience a child has of earning a dollar is to be treated like a criminal," he said.

The State Government recently announced a move to track serious offenders with similar GPS technology when they are released from prison.

The president of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, Cameron Murphy, said the move was a "disgraceful attack on people's right to basic privacy at work".

He said overseas groups feared such technology could be misused, giving predators detailed information on the whereabouts of vulnerable children. "People deserve to be treated with more trust and respect," he said.

In a sign that PMP expected some staff to leave, the information package given to the walkers with the tracking devices - chirpily titled "GPS is here!" - included a resignation form.

"Under the process I feel I no longer wish to walk for PMP Distribution and herewith terminate my position," it says.

However, the company's managing director, Brian Evans, said most walkers supported the move.

"The professional people who do this job are happy they can now prove they have done a good job," he said.

Mr Evans said PMP was the first business in the world to use GPS technology in this manner and that it allowed the company to demonstrate to its customers that all their pamphlets were delivered on time.

He said new processes were introduced in tandem with the GPS that included completing and sorting the pamphlets for the walkers.

"We've cut the amount of time it takes to do their job by 40 per cent and we are still paying the same rate," he said.



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