WORKERS AT Telstra have voted to reject the collective non-union agreement the company was trying to force on them. This is a major defeat for Telstra’s efforts to cut unions out of the workplace.
The company had offered 380 workers in its Wholesale and Service Advantage divisions a non-union agreement to replace the expiring union-negotiated enterprise agreement.
It had hoped to use non-union agreements across its workforce and chose the poorly unionised Wholesale and Service Advantage divisions to test the plan.
But embarrassing leaks showing that its anti-union strategy was designed to cut its wages bill by $50 million a year helped undermine Telstra’s claims that the non-union deal would not disadvantage staff.
The agreement offered by Telstra would also have preserved substandard wages and conditions for workers formerly on AWAs, including the loss of guaranteed annual pay rises, restrictions on overtime payments and more flexibility for the company to vary working hours each week.
The non-union agreement would also have denied union organisers access to the workplace by removing right of entry.
With other major companies including BHP, Rio Tinto and Xstrata planning to transfer workers currently on AWAs onto non-union agreements the vote at Telstra shows this strategy to undermine wages and conditions can be beaten.
But the fight for workers at the company is not over. Telstra is still refusing to reopen negotiations with unions on a new agreement.
And in late September it also announced plans to cut another 800 jobs as part of a five-year program designed to shed 12,000 workers.
Unions at Telstra should be preparing for a concerted campaign of industrial action to bring management to heel.
By James Supple