When Telstra walked away from negotiations for a new enterprise agreement in late July, management were expecting to catch their workforce unawares.
They put an offer on the table, refused to negotiate, and rushed through a vote. The bosses wanted to ensure the unions had as little chance to communicate with their members as possible.
The tactic failed. Eighty-one percent of those who voted sent the offer down in flames.
The proposed agreement was, according to the Communication Workers’ Union (CWU), a “no holds barred challenge” from Telstra.
The company was offering a 1.5 percent yearly pay increase, a real wage cut given inflation is 2.1 percent. Casual workers were excluded entirely, with no guaranteed wage increase at all.
Redundancy payments were also reduced a short while after Telstra announced it would axe 8,000 jobs.
This is a company that posted a $3.5 billion profit last year, and a $3.9 billion profit the year before.
The CEO Andy Penn, even after he copped a pay cut in 2017, took home $5.21 million this year. No such generosity has been shown to Telstra’s workers.
Nor can politicians be relied on to sympathise with workers’ plight. Liberal and Labor are responsible for the current industrial laws, which give bosses the upper hand.
It was legal, for example, for Telstra to hold a binding vote on an enterprise agreement with almost no notice, regardless of whether or not workers were in a position to make an informed decision.
It was also legal for Telstra to give the vote to 5,500 workers not even covered by the agreement.
It must have been a shock for Penn and his colleagues to find that they couldn’t simply hoodwink 25,000 employees into signing away their rights, wages and conditions.
Telstra’s response has been to implement the proposed pay increase of 1.5 percent without the protections of an agreement.
The CWU has stated that it “will continue to bargain in good faith”.