Labor fails to criticise Telstra bosses' thuggery

June 22, 2007

The ABC's June 18 Four Corners program on Telstra was a damning expose of the anti-worker policies being implemented by Australia's largest employer, Telstra. "Tough Calls" featured interviews with the family, friends and loved ones of two former Telstra workers who were driven to suicide by the relentless pressure of Telstra management to meet unrealistic performance targets.

The deafening silence on this corporate thuggery from Coalition and ALP MPs should come as no surprise. The Telstra regime under CEO Sol Truillo is implementing Howard's vision for the break up of the national carrier and the complete deregulation of telecommunications. Meanwhile, ALP leader Kevin Rudd is busy cosying up to the mining companies, and big business, to prove his conservative credentials in an election year.

Telstra's 10,000 call centre workers are under continual surveillance: every key stroke, phone call and toilet break is monitored. Meanwhile, performance targets have more than doubled in the last 12 months, with many staff being "performance managed" — bullied — into attaining these targets. This is becoming standard practice in many of Australia's new white-collar sweatshops.

A similar pressure is also being applied to Telstra's field work force, with lines' workers being measured on the quantity of completed jobs, not the quality of their work. In the field, surveillance is carried out by the fitting out of GPSs to Telstra vehicles.

Telstra is going to axe another 12,000 jobs over the next three years, meaning that the current conditions will only get worse.

Telstra's chief operations officer, Greg Winn, exposed the agenda driving Telstra's transformation from public utility provider to private profit provider at a business function on May 3 when he said: "We're not running a democracy, we don't manage by consensus, we're criticised for it but the fact of the matter is we run an absolute dictatorship". He then said: "It's a cultural issue. If you can't get the people to go there, and you try once and you try twice, then you just shoot them and get them out of the way."

Labor's failure to comment on the Four Corners' expose of Telstra bosses contrasts with its recent outspoken criticism of union leaders — "thugs" — who stand up for their members' pay and conditions. Industrial relations spokesperson Julia Gillard says Labor will continue the crack down on "violence" and "thuggery" in the workplace should it win the federal election. But Labor's outrage is reserved for unionists taking a stand against construction bosses who control an industry where, on average, one construction worker is killed every week on the job. But unless the union movement holds the ALP accountable to its original commitment to abolish Work Choices and the Australian Building and Construction Commission, life under a Rudd Labor government will indeed be a tough call for workers.

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