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CWU MEDIA RELEASE: TELSTRA’S NETWORK FAILURES “PREDICTABLE”
Telstra’s latest network failure was as predictable as rain in Melbourne, says the Communications Workers Union Victorian Branch Secretary, John Ellery.

 “These failures are becoming too regular, and It was always going to happen. Our Victorian Union members at the Global Operations Centre in Clayton Victoria (the centralised Network command and  control area) advise us that the Telstra network is in significant disarray, due to a number of management decisions that are impacting on service levels on a number of the “platforms” that provide telecommunications services, including the mobiles, data, and voice areas. They are sick of being blamed for an underpinning problem that has been getting worse over the last few years. The initial comments after last month’s outage from Exec Manager Kate McKenzie did not adequately deal with the matter, and sought to target an individual, which subsequently was proven not be the underlying case.

The major cost cutting currently occurring under the new Chief Executive, Andy Penn is one of a number of the “root causes”. Staff numbers are being rapidly reduced, highly skilled technical work is being offshored to India, highly skilled, motivated and experienced technical staff have left and not been replaced, and morale is at rock bottom.

Almost to a person, the greatest problem reported is that the CEO and the higher level management of the business don’t understand what is required to keep the network ticking.  There is a major “brain drain”, a lack of training for the small number of new starters, and the knowledge of the network is quickly becoming absent. The CEO has to urgently re-invest in its internal workforce and stop this offshoring and downsizing nonsense.

Unless this happens, outages will become more of a fact of life, ultimately leaving Telstra with very few customers. The lack of investment in basic hardware spares on the mobiles network – its flagship product – is also a major scandal that needs a reversal of the management strategy.”

CWU MEETS WITH OPTUS ON COMPANY RESTRUCTURE

The CWU met with Optus via teleconference on Friday 18 March to discuss job losses arising out of a proposed company restructure.

Last month the media carried reports that Optus was planning to slash staff numbers by up to 1,000, a figure that would represent over 10% of its current staff.

Optus has now told the CWU that it is unlikely that job losses of that magnitude will occur.

But it has confirmed that a company-wide restructure is underway involving most areas of its operations and that several hundred jobs are definitely at risk.

Optus insists that at this point no final decisions about the numbers and locations of any redundancies has been made, although obviously the process is well advanced. It appears likely that some degree of outsourcing and offshoring will be involved, but again no detail was provided.

A further meeting has been scheduled for 30 March at which the CWU hopes to receive detailed information about the scale and location of any job losses.

WORKERS’ COMPENSATION: KNOW YOUR RIGHTS

The CWU has recently been handling a number of cases where members’ workers’ compensation claims have been delayed as a result of their participation in Telstra’s internal “Injury Assist” programme.

Injury Assist was introduced in 2014 as an internal “injury management” and return-to-work programme and promoted as an additional service provided free of charge to Telstra employees.

Under the scheme Telstra pays for the first four doctor and first four physio visits and for up to $250 worth of incidental treatment costs.

Participation is supposed to be voluntary, but CWU members report that they are being actively encouraged to use Industry Assist rather than applying for workers’ compensation when they have suffered an illness or injury.

Members need to understand the possible disadvantages of going down this path and to understand their rights in this area.

  • The stated aim of Injury Assist is to get you back to work as soon as possible after your injury/illness. While this might sound like a win-win for both Telstra and the employee concerned, it might not be. There is always a danger in such programmes of employees being encouraged to return to work before they are in fact fit to do so.
  • An unstated aim of such company programmes is to minimise the company’s workers’ compensation costs by reducing the number of claims made. And even if you do make a claim, participation in Injury Assist may delay the process – either because Telstra delays processing it until you have gone through Injury Assist or because the employee doesn’t put in a claim until they have come to the end of the Injury Assist process.

Be clear. If you have a work related illness or injury:

  • You do not have to participate in Injury Assist or any similar internal company programme.
  • You have the right to consult your own doctor about your fitness to return to work
  • You have the right to apply for workers’ compensation at any time after the relevant event that caused your illness or injury.

ACMA EMPLOYEES SAY NO TO WAGE OFFER

Employees at the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) have voted down a proposed agreement which would have delivered a 6% pay rise over 3 years.

ACMA employees haven’t had a pay rise since July 2013!  The effective pay freeze is a result of Coalition government policies which have tried to force Commonwealth employees to trade off conditions for meagre pay rises which will almost certainly be lower than inflation.

CWU members have rejected that strategy, as have the great majority of other ACMA employees. Nearly 90% of the employees eligible to vote did vote and of the 396 valid votes cast, 302 (76.3%) voted NOT to accept the offer made.

The ball is back in ACMA’s court. The CWU expects that there will be further meetings with ACMA.

VISIONSTREAM (SILCAR COMMUNICATIONS): EA CONSULTATIONS BEGIN

The CWU has commenced Enterprise Agreement consultations with members in Silcar/Thiess Communications. A member meeting at the Burwood depot was held on Monday 21st March.

The purpose of these consultations is to canvass views about the way forward for Silcar/Thiess employees now that that company has been merged into the new mega-organisation, Ventia – or Visionstream as it is still known for trading purposes.

In the case of the former Silcar Telepower, the Ventia board has obviously accepted that there is an argument for a separate enterprise agreement, given the specialised nature of the work of those employees (largely exchange battery maintenance and facilities management).

But Silcar Communications employees perform much the same work as those working under the Visionstream Field Workforce Agreement.

That agreement reaches its nominal expiry date in 2018 and it is clearly the intent of management to establish one common set of wages and conditions for these two groups of workers at that time if not before.

That’s not going to be an easy task, given the differences that currently exist between the two current agreements, especially in relation to wages but also in relation to some conditions.

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