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Unfair dismissal: Bin man canned over internet comments

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A bin man who was sacked after he criticised council leaders on a newspaper's internet message board during a pay dispute has launched a legal bid for unfair dismissal compensation.

Father-of-two Paul French, 50, worked as an Edinburgh city council bin man for 11 years until his dismissal in March 2010. Using the pseudonym 'Paul the bin man', Mr French criticised council leaders over cuts to refuse collectors' pay and the use of private companies to break strike action.

Appearing on behalf of the council at an employment tribunal in Edinburgh last week Christine Livingstone explained Mr French was fired for criticising elected representatives of the council and senior officers in an "offensive manner likely to cause harm to the council's reputation."

"Mr French was dismissed not only because of his comments, but because of hundreds of blog entries," she continued, "some of which undermined officials within the council, and in particular, deputy leader Steve Cardownie."

Comments attributed to 'Paul the bin man'

Commenting on an Edinburgh Evening News story about private contractors' routes being sabotaged, he wrote: "I'm just someone who refuses to take this council's word on anything. Losing a third of my wage doesn't make me feel good."

Under another story about proposals to share services between councils, he wrote: "I'm in favour, just think of the savings in councillors needed; will Jenny [Dawe, council leader] and Stevie [Cardownie, deputy leader of the council] be required, or will we only need the one tier of officials?"

And berating one online poster for comments against bin men, he wrote: "You must work for management to keep coming out with all the half truths."

After losing his job in March, he said: "I always assumed freedom of speech counts in a modern society, and that a forward-thinking council would not be harking back to the era of Thatcherism. [Dismissal] is an unfair punishment. I think it is hypocrisy. There are comments made all the time by politicians and elected members [about the dispute], why should I not be allowed to?"

Tribunal hearing

Speaking before the tribunal this week, Mr French admitted "attacking" the council, but insisted he did so as a "city taxpayer" rather than as an employee.

"I feel like they took away my freedom of speech, I did not realise I was being watched.

"I thought I was having private conversations with other people who were expressing their views about their employers.

"Anything I said online was already available to the public in newspaper articles and on the council's own website."

The hearing continues.

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