Tony Sneddon

Changing the narrative

“My mum’s only worry was that my disability would stop me getting a job.”

Tony Sneddon has worked at the Post Office since 1974, when he also joined his union – the Communication Workers Union (CWU). Over 40 years later, Tony has supported hundreds of union members with disabilities, and helped change the narrative around disability in the workplace.

I worked at the Post Office for one week shy of 42 years.

I left school on the Friday, and started work on the Monday. I joined the CWU at the same time. Back then it was a closed shop – it was mandatory to join the union. But I would’ve signed up anyway.

I have a rare genetic condition that gave me a deformed left hand.

Because I’ve had it since birth, it never really felt like a disability. My Mum’s only worry when I was growing up was that I wouldn’t get a job. She took me for my post office interview, and was really happy when I got it.

About three years after joining the union, I became a branch official.

I’ve been actively involved for about 40 years. I helped set up the Scottish TUC’s disability committee and am still involved today. I also contribute to the CWU’s national executive whenever any disability issues come up.

I used to do health and safety inspections on the greatest patch in the world.

Aberdeen, Inverness, Fort William, Stornoway and so on. It was brilliant. We sorted out disability access issues for employees and the general public – we put in ramps, extra seating, hearing loops. It doesn’t cost much. Not many people need those things, but it makes all the difference in the world if you do.

There are some ongoing issues around disabilities at the Royal Mail Group.

There’s been a rule change so you only get medical retirement, which means you retire with your full pension, if you’re terminally ill. People with a disability who have still got a working career are getting ‘medical severance’ instead, which is just six months’ pay.

I always support a company to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ for a worker with disabilities, instead of medical severance.

It doesn’t have to cost much. For example, my disability affects my dexterity. I was given an automatic note counter and some coin scales, which meant I could work on the post office counters no problem.

A couple of years ago, I had a case of a postman who was profoundly deaf and was then diagnosed with MS.

He was absent from work for 14 months because the company wouldn’t let him work – they wanted to medically retire him. I met with a senior Royal Mail manager, where we agreed on some reasonable adjustments. Now that postie’s back at work on adjusted duties, and fully occupied. He’s not had a day’s sick leave since.

We were successful because it was clear we were serious, and the workers were prepared to go out on industrial action to help their colleague. Unity is strength.

Most union members have a much better understanding of disability issues today, and there are a lot of good employers out there too.

People with disabilities are more streetwise as well – they know there are resources, and they can get help and advice. I think a lot of that is down to the work of the unions, standing up for people’s rights and producing useful documentation.