Telstra workers in the Communications, Electrical and Plumbing Union are set to walk off the job on Tuesday, 12 March.

In June 2018, Telstra CEO Andy Penn announced plans to cut 8,000 jobs (around a quarter of the workforce) by 2022. The aggressive measure was intended to save the company $1 billion. 

Following that, in August Telstra proposed an enterprise agreement to the remaining workers that would give Workstream employees a 4.5 percent rise over the next three years and not guarantee anything to Job Family employees.

The offer was rejected outright by the union and 81 percent of the unionised workers on the basis that it is below average wage growth in Australia (currently 2.7 percent per year) and importantly below the cost of living increase (currently around 2 percent), making the offer a pay cut in real terms.

Since then, Telstra has repeatedly refused to come back to the table and offer something that workers feel is fair and reasonable. 

In November last year, union members protested out the front of Telstra’s annual general meeting with placards criticising the CEO, “Mr Penn-y Pincher”, for refusing to agree to align pay rises with the cost of living, while shamelessly collecting a $4.5 million salary for himself. As the workers pointed out, this salary is “200 times” what an average Telstra worker makes. 

Fed up with negotiations going nowhere for more than six months, on 25 January workers held a postal ballot to establish a mandate for striking if Telstra continues its bad faith approach to bargaining. Eighty-eight percent of those eligible voted “yes”.

In addition, a work ban was declared, in which unionised workers will exercise until further notice their legal right to refuse any scheduled or unscheduled overtime from 13 March.

In petty retaliation, Telstra circulated a message notifying employees that management intended to dock a day’s pay from any worker who engaged in these legal work bans. The clear message: you might as well stay at home, because we won’t pay you anything.

Out of this, the mandate for potential strike action was activated and a strike declared for 12 March. The disrespect shown by management by penalising workers for engaging in a legal work ban was the final straw.

Telstra has announced a half year 27 percent fall in profit. But the company’s profit still amounts to $1.2 billion. 

So far, more than 3,000 of the 8,000 workers slated for sacking have been thrown out the door. This is not a problem that only Telstra workers are faced with. Last year, Optus announced it would axe 440 jobs because profits were down 3.5 percent to “just” $154 million.

In an environment of intense job insecurity and deteriorating working conditions due to the workloads of those made redundant being pushed onto the remaining workers, a wage that simply keeps up with the cost of living is the bare minimum workers are entitled to. 

With telco giants and other employers crying poor to justify mass sackings, a win for the Telstra workers will be a much needed goal against the run of play.