Telstra workers fight for their jobs

July 24, 1996

Mass meetings of Telstra workers around the country on July 17 sent a message to the Howard government that they oppose the part privatisation of Telstra and are prepared to take further industrial action to fight for their jobs.

From Brisbane, Karen Fletcher reports that a mass meeting of 2000-3000 Telstra workers at the Suncorp Stadium gave their union leaders the go-ahead to "initiate such further action as required" to fight the massive staff reductions recently announced by Telstra.

The meeting, called jointly by the Communications, Electrical and Plumbing Union (CEPU) and Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU), was linked by landline to smaller meetings in regional Queensland.

CPSU state branch secretary Claire Moore told the workers that the meeting had been called to "gauge member support" for action over the 9000 job cuts officially announced by Telstra and the 24,000 marked for annihilation under the secret "Project Mercury".

Union officials and delegates told Green Left Weekly that they were pleasantly surprised at the strong turnout, particularly because Telstra management had strongly discouraged attendance.

Workers who incur the disapproval of Telstra managers are in particular peril at present due to the introduction of an employee rating system which will be used to "finger" workers for retrenchment and redundancy. Workers are to be rated from one to five. CEPU state secretary Ian McLean received strong support from the crowd at the meeting when he suggested, "Those who drink with the boss will be most likely to score a five".

McLean also emphasised the importance of "keeping the public on side" and suggested that a tactic of maintaining service while not sending or processing accounts could be effective. He urged workers not to work outside standard procedure, not to cut health and safety corners and not to give in to pressure to perform more than their own job.

"They say we're standing around with nothing to do", he said, "but there have already been so many cuts that many Telstra workers are doing more than one job now".

Delegate Bill Dawson, who has announced his intention to head an alternate ticket for leadership of the union at the next state branch election, endorsed the motions put forward by the leadership but pointed to the unions' tardiness in responding to attacks on Telecom and Telstra. "Have we left our run too late?", he asked.

More than 5500 Telstra workers in Melbourne called on Telstra management to honour previous agreements on redundancy, redeployment, job cuts and worker consultation at a stop-work meeting called by the communications division of the Communications, Electrical and Plumbing Union.

Sue Brook reports that attendance was good despite intense pressure from Telstra management. Many speakers drew attention to the daily harassment of workers by management, with the introduction of extensive surveillance on the job.

Len Cooper, secretary of the CEPU communications division, said Telstra was planning to cut 30,000 staff in preparation for privatisation. Cooper said that Rob Cartwright, Telstra's managing director of employee relations, had been head hunted from CRA to prepare Telstra for privatisation by removing the major barrier — the union.

While the official motion authorised the divisional executive to initiate further actions in defence of the union's demands, the motion didn't commit the union to any specific form of industrial action. CEPU officials at the meeting emphasised that the current stage was a work-to-rule campaign and that industrial action was not needed at this stage.

A speaker from the floor received strong applause for his call for industrial action, but such a motion was not moved.

In Newcastle, some 500 members of the CEPU attended the mass meeting. The meeting condemned Telstra management for ignoring existing agreements with the union, including the Redundancy and Redeployment Agreement that individuals would not be targeted in the most recent round of cuts. Motions were also passed supporting the public ownership of Telstra and condemning Telstra's attempts to prevent the union's communication with staff.

From Perth, Anthony Brown writes that 600 Telstra workers gathered at Perth oval to discuss and vote on a range of motions put forward by the national executive of the CEPU communications division. A teleconference link-up allowed participation by hundreds of other workers from all over WA.

A motion was carried to ask Telstra to honour existing redundancy agreements and to meet again to consider industrial action if Telstra broke the promises.

During discussion, CEPU members spoke of the need to stay united. One condemned Telstra shedding jobs by "stealth" and called on the CEPU to be vigilant and not let many smaller cuts pass by without action. "We can't relax; this fight is probably just the first round", was one comment.

The four official motions were passed, as well as an additional motion to take industrial action if any CEPU members were victimised for attending the mass meeting. Members were encouraged to attend the August 19 rally against public sector cuts, although the question of stopping work to attend was not discussed.

From Sydney, Chris Boyd reports that more than 2000 workers from the CEPU communications division packed the Town Hall to discuss Telstra's job-shedding plans. At the same time, 20 regional meetings were held across NSW.

Five motions were discussed, including a demand that Telstra management honour no "head count management techniques" and other existing agreements, and for management to provide a public commitment to honour all agreements.

Ian McCarthy, the NSW secretary of the telecommunications and services branch of the communication division, said that management had not consulted the union

about the job cuts, nor Project Mercury. He said that the union would not shirk a fight.

Two speakers from the floor suggested that the union take stronger action, and there was a suggestion that the CEPU strike with the Community and Public Sector Union on July 25.

The official motion was carried with only eight voting against. Other motions were passed on keeping Telstra public, opposing intimidation of staff by Telstra and opposing the Resource Rebalancing Agreement. A motion to stay out for the rest of the day was overwhelmingly defeated.