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2013-03-22

Telco e-Bulletin 2013 # 4

  1. Optus announces redundancies
  2. Telstra OHS Committee elections
  3. Telstra to clarify AWA/ITEA termination process
  4. Still no resolution of tester issue
  5. "Tears and stress everywhere": new training causing workplace stress say CWU members
  6. NBN Co revises roll-out target - again
  7. Service Stream "gives back" Northern Territory NBN contract
  8. Visionstream wins more NBN contracts
  9. FWC knocks back employers on penalty rates
  10. Unions welcome government moves to strengthen Fair Work Act.

1. Optus announces redundancies

Optus has advised the CWU that around 300 positions will be made redundant as a result of the restructure announced last month. The job losses come on top of the approximately 1,000 positions lost last year.

As previously reported, the main areas affected are marketing, networks and IT with about two thirds of the redundancies coming from these areas. The CWU understands that overall about half of the positions affected are from classification levels covered by the Optus enterprise agreement, the rest being from the higher levels covered by common law contracts.

The networks area, which has the largest number of redundancies, will see a consolidation of current work groups with consequent job losses.

As reported in the last E-bulletin, the CWU has questioned the logic of this move given Optus' stated intention of focussing greater efforts - and hence, it might be thought, resources on the fixed network services market.

Optus has undertaken to give consideration to redeployment opportunities for employees affected by these job cuts. CWU members facing redundancy should contact the union for advice on their rights and their options.

2. Telstra OHS Committee elections

The CWU has held further discussions with Telstra about the composition of the company's National Health and Safety Committee.

As reported in E-bulletin #3, the CWU raised concerns with Telstra over the structure of the committee and the manner of voting for its members at the time of the recent employee representative elections.

While the elections reflected the legislative requirement that the number of employee representatives on the committee be at least equal to the number of employer reps, other aspects of the proposed structure were determined unilaterally by Telstra.

For instance, the decision that each broad national "work area/section" within the company have only one representative on the committee was not endorsed by the CWU which considers that this structure could lead to its members being underrepresented at this national level.

As a result of the recent discussions Telstra is now considering enlarging the number of employee (but not employer) representatives on the national committee. This would allow sections of the company where employee numbers are high (e.g. Network Operations) to have more reps than those where they are relatively low (e.g. Human Resources). This would meet at least some of the concerns raised by the CWU.

The union is presently waiting for Telstra's written advice in relation to this proposal.

3. Telstra to clarify AWA/ITEA termination process

Telstra has moved to clarify the steps that employees need to take when moving from individual contracts (AWAs and ITEAs) and onto the Telstra Enterprise Agreement (TEA).

Since the certification of the new TEA last year, both the CWU and Telstra have had many queries from people wanting to come off AWAs and ITEAs and onto the new agreement.

At times there appears to have been uncertainty at some levels of management about just what steps need to be taken and about what options are available to employees.

The CWU has been particularly concerned to ensure that both current and new employees received clear information about whether or not they were eligible to be employed under the Workstream (as opposed to the Job Family) pay and classification system.

Most current CWU members are employed under the Workstream system which contains a much smaller performance-based element in an employee's total pay.

Following discussions with the CWU, Telstra has now developed a number of Fact Sheets which will be placed on the company's intranet to provide information to employees.

The CWU strongly recommends however that any members considering moving off their AWAs/ITEAs contact their state branch for further discussion of their options.

4. Still no resolution of tester issue

The CWU is continuing to engage with Telstra on the question of the correct grading of testers moving off AWAs and onto the Telstra Enterprise Agreement (TEA).

Telstra has placed a number of testers in this situation at CFW 5 level instead of CFW 7 as required under the current Workstream classification structure.

The company is arguing that their approach reflects changes to the actual work now being performed by testers. The CWU has reiterated its view that any questions of changing work functions/complexity need to be dealt with through a separate process and that in the meantime Telstra's actions constitute a breach of the TEA.

The CWI has requested that Telstra correct this breach and will be pursuing legal action if it fails to do so.

5. "Tears and stress everywhere": new training causing workplace stress say CWU members

The CWU has received a number of reports from members about stress associated with new training being implemented in Service Delivery call centres.

The so-called "blended training" is evidently part of a reorganisation of work in the centres which is being undertaken without consultation with the CWU.

It involves training customer-facing staff to perform some functions that have to date been performed by back of house testers and appears to be part of a broader attempt by Telstra to reconfigure, downgrade and partly outsource the tester role.

The CWU has now received direct reports from members in both the Perth and Townsville contact centres suggesting that many employees are experiencing a high level of distress because of the training.

Members are reporting "tears and stress everywhere" with even highly experienced workers having to take stress leave.

They say the problems reflect the short period being allowed for training (2 weeks) and consolidation (1 week), shortages of training manuals and the unfamiliarity of existing staff with functions they regard as "technical" rather than customer support.

Many of those affected are older women workers who do not feel well equipped to do such work.

These problems are being compounded by changes to rest breaks in the centres which again have been introduced without adequate consultation over and assessment of the health and safety implications of the move.

And at the same time no extra pay is being offered to employees in recognition of the new roles they are being expected to perform.

The CWU has advised Telstra that it considers that these circumstances are unacceptable. They represent both a breach of the company's consultation obligations under the Enterprise Agreement and a failure to fulfil its health and safety responsibilities to employees.

Telstra has undertaken to respond formally to the CWU about these issues and we will then consider further action.

6. NBN Co revises roll-out targets - again

The National Broadband Network Company (NBN Co) has once again revised its roll-out numbers as its contractors struggle to meet the targets set in its Corporate Plans.

In an announcement on 21 March, NBN Co said construction would fall short of the numbers forecast in its most recent Corporate Plan, especially in brownfield areas. NBN Co has revised its estimates of premises passed by fibre in these areas down by as much as 46% from targets which already represented a radical revision of those contained in the first Corporate Plan.

In December 2010, NBN Co forecast a total number of 952,000 premises passed by fibre by June 2013. This was subsequently revised to 341,000 and is now 190-215,000.

The actual number of premises passed at this time is of course lower again. Figures recently made public by Retail Service Provider DeVoteD show the total number of premises passed by mid-March as 70, 783 - 47,5111 brownfield and 23,272 greenfield. Clearly the next three months will be busy ones indeed if even the most recently revised targets are to be met.

Homes to be passedTarget Dec 10Target Aug 12Target Mar 13
by fibre by June 2013 2011-13 Corporate Plan 2012-15 Corporate Plan 21 March announcement
Greenfields 319,000 55,000 35-40,000
Brownfields 950,000 286,000 155-175,000
Total fibre 1,269,000 341,000 190-215,000

Equally revealing are the details provided by NBN Co (and made public by DeVoteD) of the actual status of those homes "passed" by fibre. These showed that of the 70,783 only 18,231 were actually physically connected to the NBN i.e. had both a drop and an external Network Termination Unit in place.

These are sobering figures, especially when we bear in mind that it is now almost 4 years since the NBN project in its current form was first announced. They explain the flurry of recent activity reported on in other stories in this bulletin. Equally, however, they would seem to point to the inevitability of a reconsideration of the project as conceived in 2009 irrespective of the outcome of the next federal election.

7. Service Stream "gives back" Northern Territory NBN contract

NBN contractor Service Stream has "handed back" a section of its NBN construction contract as the project's difficulties become more apparent.

As the operations wing of the Syntheo joint venture with Lend Lease, Service Stream has had responsibility for the NBN roll-out in Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory. But since the contract for SA/NT was awarded in November 2011, progress has been glacially slow.

The 2011 SA/NT contract called for design and construction covering 85,000 premises over the first 12 months of the deal - 22,000 in the NT and 63,000 in SA. According to the press release issued at the time, some of this work was "already underway".

Yet NBN Co data for March, posted by Retail Service Provider DVoteD earlier this month, showed only 126 premises in NT having been passed by the NBN, all of them in greenfields sites. The South Australian total is just over 2,000, more or less evenly divided between greenfield and brownfield locations.

Even if it is accepted that the prolonged Telstra negotiations held back the overall national roll-out schedule, these figures are striking. After all, those negotiations had already been concluded by the time the SA/NT contract was let and preliminary work had, according to NBN Co, already begun.

As the E-bulletin has pointed out before, the difficulties experienced by Service Stream - and other contractors - go well beyond any delays arising from the Telstra deal. They point to more fundamental commercial and operational problems at the heart of the project: the decentralised and outsourced construction programme with all the problems of logistics, quality control and overall project management inherent in that approach; the (related) issues of labour supply and retention; the overarching difficulty of meeting cost targets that reflect hastily reached initial estimates.

The CWU has for many years supported the policy objective of creating a national broadband network capable of delivering modern services equitably to all Australians. However, it cannot support an approach that creates uncertainty for the project's workers, whether employees or sub-contractors, and that relies on unacceptable labour rates in order to meet cost targets.

8. Visionstream wins more NBN contracts

While NBN contractor Service Stream struggles to meet its targets, Visionstream has been awarded fresh NBN Co roll out contracts in Victoria, Queensland and southern NSW.

The move, evidently designed to boost roll-out rates over the coming months, will see the introduction of a second brownfields construction company in areas to date only served by one i.e. Silcar in NSW and Queensland and Transfield in Victoria.

E-bulletin readers may remember that after the collapse of the initial contractor tender process in March 2011 it was decided to create what were effectively regional monopolies for a handful of prime contractors. The aim was to reduce risk and allow economies of scale sufficient to make contracts commercially feasible.

It remains to be seen to what extent the decision to award new contracts to rival construction companies will be compatible with this objective.

9. FWC knocks back employers on penalty rates

In a win for workers who rely on penalty rates for a decent living wage, the Fair Work Commission (formerly Fair Work Australia) has knocked back an employer push to weaken penalty rate provisions in the hospitality and retail sectors.

Employer groups had called for a 50% reduction in Sunday rates in a number of "modern" awards : the General Retail Industry Award, the Fast Food Industry Award, the Hospitality Industry (General) Award, the Food, Beverage and Tobacco Manufacturing Award and the Hair and Beauty Industry Award 2010.

Employees in the areas covered by these awards are among those who depend most on penalty rates to compensate them for working unsociable hours in jobs which are often insecure.

The Commission said that the employer groups have provided insufficient evidence in support of their push for the lower rates.

ACTU President Ged Kearney said that the decision was a major victory for workers in the industries concerned.

"Working late nights or week-ends is still a sacrifice for workers," she said, "particularly those with families and penalty rates must remain to reflect this. Removing penalty rates would effectively be a pay cut for 500,000 low-paid workers."

"With millions of Australian workers in insecure forms of work, penalty rates are more important than ever for casual and low-paid workers struggling to pay the bills."

10. Unions welcome government moves to strengthen Fair Work Act

The Federal Government has introduced its second tranche of Fair Work Act amendments in Parliament. The amendments relate to increased right-of-entry for union officials, family-friendly working arrangements, mandatory roster change consultation, and workplace bullying protections.

The Fair Work Act Amendment Bill 2013 also makes penalty rates a modern award objective.

The right-of-entry changes for union officials include: giving union officials access to lunchrooms as a default meeting place; empowering the Fair Work Commission to rule on frequency of visit disputes; and having employers "facilitate" right-of-entry visits to remote locations.

ACTU secretary Dave Oliver said employer opposition to the amendments were part of a "scare campaign".

"They are clearly hoping to send a message to Tony Abbott that he should bring back Work Choices," Mr. Oliver said. "Business groups should stop running a baseless scare campaign and focus on working with their employees to improve Australia's productivity."

However, Mr. Oliver said unions were concerned that arbitration for intractable bargaining disputes had been shelved for the moment. Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten indicated this week that the government would not proceed at this time with this aspect of the legislation in the face of strong employer opposition.

"The fact that important promised changes to arbitration, which would allow workers to have access to an independent umpire, have been left out is a concern for unions and working people," Mr. Oliver said.

"But we fully expect the Govt and the Minister Shorten to honour the commitment given to workers in further amendments to the Fair Work laws," he said.

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