The CWU has been involved in monitoring Telstra’s trial in South Australia of a new automated despatch system.
Steve Butterworth, President of the CWU SA/NT Branch, has participated in a ride-on with field staff using the system and has also had access to despatchers involved in the trial. His feedback from the field suggests that, as usual, there remains a gap between the goals of the trial and the realities of the working day.
At a hook-up held on Wednesday 25 June, Telstra reported that it was happy with the trial metrics so far and that efficiencies such as reduction of staff travelling distances were being achieved.
But some members have told Steve that their travelling time has actually increased.
And those working on piece rates (AWA employees, contractors) claim the new system is actually reducing the number of jobs they were completing by an average 1.5 a day.
Telstra says that some of the current difficulties arise from the fact that in the trial at present field staff are being “drip fed” jobs rather than having them batched. It also has acknowledged that specific issues, such as parking availability in the Adelaide CBD, may not be being factored in by the system.
But these are familiar types of issues and go to the heart of the problem with automated despatch – its inherent lack of flexibility and prompt, real-time responsiveness to specific local conditions.
The CWU will continue to monitor this trial and to seek feedback from members so as to better understand its impact on the different sections of Telstra’s field workforce. But the union remains of the view that there is no substitute for locally informed human oversight of work schedules.