Telstra's union busting agenda

Issue 

Telstra workers, members of the Communications Plumbing and Electrical Union and the Community and Public Sector Union, took 24-hour strike actions nationally (except Victoria on account of the recent bushfire tragedy) on February 9.

The workers are angered at Telstra's ongoing refusal to negotiate an enterprise agreement (EA) with the union.

Since August 2008, Telstra management has been on an anti-union rampage, taking full advantage of the Rudd government's halfhearted approach in repealing Howard's hated Work Choices legislation.

This follows on from its tactics in the lead-up to the 2007 federal election when many staff were pressured into signing new five-year Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs).

Telstra's anti-union agenda was spelled out in its recent submission to the Senate inquiry into the Fair Work Bill. Telstra argued that unions should be barred from any bargaining role on behalf of members and should be prohibited from entering workplaces.

It also called for the further relaxing of unfair dismissal laws.

Documents leaked from Telstra's human resources department last August outlined its intention to withdraw from enterprise agreement negotiations with unions and offer a non-union "employee collective agreement" (ECA) directly to the work force.

Following the expiry of the enterprise agreement, and with no provisions for a further pay rise, Telstra management judged staff could easily be forced to accept a "take it or leave it" offer. Telstra warned staff that a "no" vote meant no pay rise for at least 12 months.

While dragging out fake negotiations with unions, Telstra also assured staff that their views would be taken into account.

When the ECA was presented to staff for a vote, however, it became clear that Telstra's "consultation" process was merely a smokescreen. The proposed ECA reflected almost exactly the terms and conditions spelled out in the leaked documents.

In a deliberate attempt to drive a wedge between workers, Telstra staff were sliced off into small work groups and offered an ECA covering each group separately. Collectively, only around 25% of eligible employees have voted for the ECA.

The fact that the Rudd government has dragged its heels in scrapping Work Choices has emboldened Telstra to carry out these attacks on workers rights.

The bitter irony for many Telstra unionists, who held out for better times throughout the Howard years, is that they are now fighting to avoid defeat under a Labor government that they helped elect.