By Steve Painter
Telecom workers are preparing for a prolonged struggle over the organisation's plans to cut its workforce by about 15%. Telecom (AOTC) management has already announced a cut of 4400 jobs over the next year, about 6% of the organisation's 79,000-strong work force. The latest cuts follow the loss of 12-15,000 jobs in the past three or four years.
It is possible Telecom could eventually shed up to a third of its work force if the pattern of the United States telecommunications industry is repeated here. There, cuts of that scale followed the introduction of greater competition in the early '80s.
The threat of the US model is real, for the latest restructuring is being carried out under the direction of Frank Blount, Telecom's new chief executive officer. A former AT&T manager, Blount was recruited from the US on a salary of around $500,000 a year.
With more than 200 telecommunications companies, the US now has a very confusing and expensive telephone network. Long distance calls often involve dealing with several different companies, all charging different rates. So complicated is the system that large users of the phone system often hire contractors to handle their telecommunications traffic.
Competition has just begun in Australia with the licensing of Optus, a second telecommunications operator, which is presently offering an alternative mobile phone service and will move later this year into long-distance and international services. Optus is looking to move in on some of Telecom's more profitable areas. To assist the private company, Telecom is being forced to reduce its spending in areas such as research and development and expansion of services.
Jim Tudehope, postal and telecommunications union (APTU) Victorian acting secretary, says the cuts to Telecom are part of a short-sighted campaign to run down staffing levels with little concern for longer term costs: "Think about the closure of line depots all over the country, the contracting out of traditional Telecom external plant work, the shutdown of food services and security services, the closure and amalgamation of district offices, as well as the proposals to sell off Telecom Industries and Autoplant, then you'll start to see the big picture".
Tudehope says Telecom is trying to panic workers into voluntary redundancy deals. Last year, the organisation announced its intention to impose compulsory redundancies, but the three main unions in the industry were able to delay the introduction of this until the end of January 1993.
However, says Tudehope, "it seems AOTC can't even wait until then. The announcement of these job cuts is designed to stampede even what is laughingly called voluntary redundancy ... there's an awful lot of managers running around saying to certain employees that they'd better jump now before they get pushed on January 31." Tudehope says Telecom closed half its district offices in Victoria last year.
The latest round of cuts is part of Telecom's drive to pare back to what it calls its "core business". It is wants to dump its cleaners, security guards etc, replacing them with contractors. Most of these workers are members of the Public Sector Union.
The PSU has already held stop-work meetings, as have some branches of the APTU. The other Telecom union, the ATEA/ATPOA is to hold stop-works this week, some of them in conjunction with the APTU. The latter two unions are in the final stages of amalgamation into the new Communication Workers Union.