Documents leaked from Telstra's human resources department and released by the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) to the Sydney Morning Herald on August 14, show that the company wants to bypass unions and impose a non-union collective agreement on its 32,000 employees, thereby cutting its annual wages bill by $50 million. On August 13, Telstra announced a $3.7 billion profit for the 2007-08 financial year.
The leaked documents reveal that Telstra made plans as early as February to present its staff with a non-negotiable, non-union enterprise agreement that contained the same wages and conditions as those offered to staff under Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs — individual contracts). The "deal" would offer staff a pay rise of 11-11.5% over three years (well below inflation, currently at 5% per year) and "merit-based" pay for some, and seek a productivity "blitz" to reduce the cost of technical services.
If staff rejected the non-union agreement, Telstra planned a 12-month wage freeze.
According to the August 14 Workplace Express, Telstra assessed as "low-to-moderate" the risk of any industrial action against its offer. However, it was also prepared to use "AWA employees, industry partners and contract/agency workforce during an industrial action" as strikebreakers, if needed.
The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) and the ACTU have condemned Telstra and called on the federal government to fast-track the repeal of the previous Howard government's Work Choices legislation. Federal industrial relations minister Julia Gillard has called on Telstra to "respect" its work force and abandon its reliance on Work Choices.
However, as Telstra spokesperson Martin Barr told the August 15 Canberra Times, the company's plan to negotiate a non-union collective agreement with its work force would be just as legal under Labor's proposed industrial relations system, laid out in its "Forward with Fairness" policy released last April, as under Work Choices. "Any collective agreement would have nothing to do with AWAs or Work Choices and our employees would get a vote on it", Barr said.
"Australian workers urgently need the rest of Work Choices to be scrapped and to have their rights to collectively bargain restored", ACTU secretary Jeff Lawrence said on August 14 in response to the leaking of the Telstra plan. However, neither the ACTU nor the CPSU have announced any plans for action in pursuit of their demands.