Telstra vote a test case for divided workforce plan

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Telstra vote a test case for divided workforce plan

Telstra’s plan to split its workforce into old and new employees — with reduced conditions for the new ones — will have its first test next week.

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Telstra’s plan to split its workforce into old and new employees - with reduced conditions for the new ones - will have its first test next week.

Almost 300 workers from the ‘Wholsesale and Service Advantage’ area (call centre-related) will vote 1516 September on the proposal in what amounts to a test case.

Telstra unions say leaked human resources documents have revealed this is part of Telstra’s long-planned strategy to target vulnerable groups of employees through its WorkChoices-style approach.

They say on their ‘Your Rights at Telstra’ website that the proposed deal would split the workforce into two groups: Part A for current employees and Part B for new employees and those on expired Australian Workplace Agreements.

‘Second class employees’: unions

The unions say Part B would effectively create second class employees by reducing conditions in some significant areas such as hours of work, redundancy entitlements for new employees, and no guaranteed wage increases.

Last year, Qantas flight attendants agreed to a similar proposal.

‘If the vote gets up, it is almost certain that management will then make the same offer to another small group of employees in its slice-and-dice strategy,’ the unions.

Telstra meanwhile is sticking with its decision not to deal with the Telstra unions and to make workplace arrangements directly with its employees.

Last week, it failed to send a representative to an AIRC hearing where the unions were seeking mediation on the stalled collective agreement.

Unions want a ballot

Specifically, the unions requested the commission conduct a ballot of the 10,000-plus workers covered by the enterprise agreement about whether they would prefer a union-negotiated agreement or a non-union one.

The unions admit that under the Workplace Relations Act Telstra cannot be compelled to attend mediation talks, but say their refusal does not show good faith.

‘The company’s human resources managers have been obstinate at every step as unions have attempted to re-open genuine negotiations,’ the unions say. ‘This belligerent attitude is increasingly out of step with the times.’

Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s commitment over the weekend indicated that a pivotal point of Labor’s new IR legislation will be an obligation to deal in good faith.

‘If you want good workplace relations, if you want to resolve disputes, then good-faith talking is the way that it happens,’ she said.

Collective agreement?

Under the new industrial umpire, Fair Work Australia, there will be powers to enforce good-faith bargaining.

However, Gillard has confirmed that employers will not be obliged to accept a collective agreement, even if a majority of employees wants one.


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