Telstra Leave Direction – The so-called Christmas ‘shut-down’

30 July 2020

CWUnion Telstra Bulletin
Leave direction – the so-called Christmas “shut down”

Discussions were held with Telstra HR representatives last Friday (24th July) about the latest Telstra push regarding a Christmas “shut down”. The “Christmas” shut down comes on top of the “Easter” shut down, and any other shut down periods that have been attempted (e.g. Melbourne Cup weekend), including the lead up now to the supposed requirement to take more annual leave prior to September.

Victorian Branch representatives strongly advocated that the “shut down” direction has numerous problems in practise on the ground, timing, as well as the likelihood Managers may apply their own interpretation that may link to their KPI’s. The clause in the EBA only gives the management the direction ability under very limited conditions. The practicalities of what it means, mainly relating to individual leave credits being reduced unilaterally by the boss, were also discussed.

As we have previously advised, the “leave direction” clause was negotiated around 4 EBA’s ago (the Thodey era), at the instance of the then Network Construction business unit. No other business units at the time wanted the ability to “shut down” their business. Not surprisingly, a manager from the Queensland Construction administration, who was at the time involved with the EBA negotiations, pursued the ability to shut down Construction during the so-called “network embargo” period. This period was where changes to the Telstra network were halted due to the fact that there may have been outages caused by moves and changes (i.e. upgrades) made by the Construction group.  This was a precaution that had been around for some time, but because there was no shut down provision in the then EBA it never went ahead. The Construction group wanted the ability to stand down their staff who were not able to work on the network during the embargo period, which was originally defined as being Christmas Eve through to early January (i.e. the intervening days and just after New Year’s day.)

However, there was no intent at the time to use this clause as a unilateral way of reducing leave liabilities which is where the current impasse sits. Instead of technical reasons for the shut-down, it is now being dressed up as a “health and safety” initiative (i.e. we’re so worried about your health, so a forced Christmas/Easter/Melbourne Cup/pre September break is necessary). It is an underhanded method of reduction of leave liability to make the bosses KPI’s look good.

There was also a further clause inserted that somewhat mirrored the then Fair Work legislation changes regarding “excess leave” where the Fair Work Act allowed employers to “direct” staff to reduce their Annual Leave credits once they had reached 8 weeks. The direction only allowed them to reduce this to leave 4 weeks remaining. In the case of Telstra, the 8 weeks was reduced to 6 weeks, so in fact Telstra has greater abilities regarding excess leave reduction than the Fair Work Act envisioned.

Annual leave is clearly your entitlement – not the bosses’, and it is taken at your initiative – not the bosses’.  It has always been that way. Now Telstra want to dictate when you have your leave for a number of reasons that aren’t in the interests of staff.

The Branch’s position on this matter (as per the EBA) is:

  • Any direction made on a “shut down” is not lawful unless the area concerned is completely shut down. That is, no-one working in that area, no recalls, skeleton staffing, etc. That is a shut down, and in the Telstra situation only a few areas would come under this definition. Telstra doesn’t shut down over Christmas – customers still require service.
  • Any direction has to be “reasonable to do so”. Telstra appear to have forgotten what “reasonable to do so” really means in these circumstances. Whether it is the “excess leave” or the “shut down” argument, the EBA says it must be “reasonable to do so”.
  • Given the history of alleged shut downs recently, staff really have little ability to take leave at their initiative, because they have little or no Annual Leave credits. This is an entirely unreasonable situation.
  • Staff are being bullied and threatened over failing to make applications for leave. This is arguably a breach of the Commonwealth OH&S Act.
  • The Branch argues that a shut-down is not occurring across Telstra and the initiative should be stopped immediately.

If any members are being pressured regarding these forced annual leave directives – in particular, if you are being pressured to take one week annual leave before September and you don’t have more than 6 weeks accrued – please contact the undersigned about the matter.

CWU (T&S) Vic

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