The Guardian December 1, 1999


Call centres:
Telstra workers resist outsourcing, wage cuts

by Rohan Gowland

Workers at Telstra call centres are locked in confrontation with management 
over changes to working arrangements and are resisting the company's move 
to contract out.

The Communications Electrical Plumbing Union (CEPU) said: "Telstra 
management is attempting to pressure and deceive its Call Centre staff into 
voting for an Enterprise Bargaining document which, if accepted, will 
freeze wages for many years, reduce long standing conditions of employment 
and set the scene for the major outsourcing of their jobs".

Telstra's attempt to contract out ran into a roadblock when a class action 
case by workers at a privately-run call centre was successful in claiming 
back-pay because the private call centre paid lower wages than Telstra had 
paid before contracting out.

Now Telstra is attempting to lower the wages and conditions of all its call 
centre staff before it embarks on further contracting out.

Len Cooper, vice-president of the CEPU communications division, told The 
Guardian, "Telstra has refused to have serious negotiations" over a new 
enterprise agreement (EBA). Instead Telstra has tried to shut the union out 
from the process by putting its proposed EBA directly to the workers in a 
company-run ballot.

According to the union, the ballot, which is currently taking place, is 
being conducted in a "shonky fashion", with no scrutineers, with management 
watching the workers as they vote, and a one-sided lecture being given to 
workers just before they vote about the importance of voting YES.

If successful, Telstra could claim before the Industrial Relations 
Commission that the union's opposition to the proposal is irrelevant and 
contrary to what the workers want. The tactic is to try to isolate the 
union.

"If it is successful, the proposal will actually freeze the wages of 
thousands of call centre employees for many years to come  6, 7, or 8 
years  depending on where you are on the ladder", said Mr Cooper.

"The unions are running a big campaign to vote NO, but we are also calling 
the ballot a sham because there are none of the normal safeguards. It will 
be counted in secret, Telstra will announce the result and no-one will be 
able to see it", he said.

Since 1992 Telstra has sacked tens of thousands of workers. Earlier this 
year, Telstra announced another 12,000 jobs would be shed, but did not 
specify how. The union suspects the company is planning to achieve this by 
contracting out over the next couple of years.

After the VOTE NO campaign "we will be gearing up for a hotter industrial 
campaign to force Telstra to the bargaining table and to come up with a 
decent agreement  that's the next step", said Mr Cooper.

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