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.