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2013-06-05

Telco e-Bulletin 2013 # 9

1. CWU meets with Telstra on Operations reorganisation

The CWU has met with Telstra following the company's announcement of a major reorganisation centred on Telstra Operations.

The new structure involves dissolving the present Network Construction business and creating three new groups - IT Solutions, Networks and Customer Service Delivery. The aim, according to Telstra is to position the company to better address customer needs (and related network developments) in today's technological and commercial environment.

At the same time Telstra is creating five groups which will work across the customer-focussed operational units to manage internal networks and IT systems, assets and facilities, contracts, business performance (for Operations) and product delivery.

What does it mean for CWU members?

The changes are due to come into effect at management level from 1 July but it may be some time before their full implications for all CWU members become clear. Telstra says that it has not yet worked out exactly where all staff affected by the changes will be placed under the new structure.

Telstra has indicated however that it does not expect the reorganisation to change the actual work performed by most CWU members. Members doing wideband work for Network Construction, for instance, will in future perform that same work for Customer Service Delivery.

It is also important for CWU members to be clear that the reorganisation does not change classification structures, pay levels and other entitlements contained in the current Enterprise Agreement (EA).Members cannot be transferred out of the Workstream section of the EA onto Job Family conditions as part of this exercise.

Lastly, there is the issue of job cuts. Obviously figures of up to 15,000 floated in some media reports are wildly inaccurate - this is the number of employees involved in the changes, not the number likely to be made redundant. But Telstra has not denied that the reorg will lead to some job losses.

The CWU will be pressing Telstra to ensure that all retraining and redeployment options are explored in such cases in line with the terms of the EA.

The CWU expects to meet again with Telstra in the coming weeks when more detail on these questions is available. Members will be kept up to date with developments.

2. Asbestos forces halt to Telstra/NBN remediation programme

The potential exposure of workers, householders and school children to asbestos from Telstra pits has caused an abrupt halt to the Telstra network remediation work associated with the NBN roll-out.

A number of incidents coming in quick succession has highlighted the asbestos risk: bags of asbestos dumped outside a Telstra exchange and near a primary school in Victoria; asbestos fibres released into front yards in Penrith, NSW; reports of inadequate safety training in Tasmania.

The CWU has been warning of the asbestos danger since the early days of the project. The union issued an alert to members last October following reports from sub-contractors In South Australia and Western Australia about dangerous work practices.

Unfortunately it has not been until there has been a threat not only to workers' but also to public safety that these dangers have been acknowledged by all involved - by Telstra, by NBN Co and by the government.

So where does the responsibility for this sorry state of affairs lie?

For Telstra, there is no escaping the fact that under the agreements with NBN Co and the government, the remediation programme is its responsibility.

And from a legal point of view the pits are a "workplace" which Telstra is responsible for keeping safe - for employees, for other workers (subbies) and for the public.

Telstra has acknowledged this fact by calling a halt to work on pits and putting number of measures in place designed to improve work practices. These include increased training and auditing of contractors.

But the prime contractors performing this work - the same ones who are working for NBN Co on the roll-out - also have a duty of care to the subbies they use. Visionstream and Service Stream, companies involved in the most recent incidents, are also in the immediate firing line.

And beyond these actors sits NBN Co itself - a government-owned company under intense pressure both to meet roll-out targets and to control costs in the run-up to the federal election. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that these circumstances have played their part in the current spate of asbestos incidents.

3. Government to establish national asbestos agency, registry.

The federal government will establish a national asbestos agency with responsibility for managing a national asbestos management plan. The agency will also keep a register of all people who have or may have been exposed to asbestos.

The establishment of the agency - to be known as the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency - is an initiative coming out of a government -initiated inquiry which reported last year. The Asbestos Management Review Report June 2012 recommended that Australia have a national strategy for managing - and ultimately removing - asbestos across the whole country.

Legislation to establish the Agency was introduced into parliament in March.

The asbestos register - which will be administered by the agency - is part of the response to the events of recent weeks. Community concern about possible exposure is running high in the wake of extensive media coverage of incidents involving asbestos in Telstra pits in Penrith NSW and Ballarat in Victoria.

Cases of unsafe work practices in the handling of asbestos in the course of the NBN roll-out have also been reported in SA, WA, Tasmania and Queensland.

The register will allow anyone who believes he or she may have been exposed to asbestos -whether a worker or a member of the public - to record the incident. While this will hardly allay anxieties for people who think they may be at risk it will at least help strengthen the legal case of any who do develop asbestos-related disease in the future.

4. Telstra asbestos: it's in exchanges too

Recent incidents related to the NBN roll-out have alerted the public - and politicians - to the fact that many of Telstra's ducts and pits contain asbestos. That is a fact well known to CWU members.

But what they also know is that asbestos is not confined to the external plant area. Telstra exchange buildings also contain asbestos - as of course do millions of other buildings around Australia.

As E-bulletin readers would be aware, asbestos in sheeting, roofing or floor tiles may not be a hazard if it is undisturbed. But the sorry state of many Telstra exchange buildings is giving rise to concern among CWU members about possible exposure on these sites.

Cracked walls and broken floor tiles -not uncommon in today's unmanned exchanges - represent potential asbestos hazards. The CWU will be raising these issues in the context of a more general discussion with Telstra over asbestos management.

Members who are aware of exchanges where such conditions exist should report the matter to their state branch.

5. Testers case goes to Directions Hearing

The CWU continues to pursue the case of incorrect banding of testers moving onto the Telstra Enterprise Agreement from other employment arrangements.

A Directions Hearing was held in the Melbourne Magistrate's Court on Wednesday 29 May. The CWU asked for further documents from Telstra relating to the employment contracts of the members involved and Telstra was ordered to provide them by 12 June.

CWU now needs to file the evidence we are going to rely on by the end of June and Telstra will then have to file their evidence by the end of July.

The matter is listed for further Directions on 7 August. That hearing will determine whether the matter is dealt with through mediation or goes straight to a court hearing.

The wheels of the law turn slowly. Members will be kept abreast of developments in this case.

6. Vodafone's woes continue

Vodafone's Australian operations continue to experience difficulty with the carrier's joint venture with Hutchison, VHA, reporting a decline of 216,000 subscribers in the first three months of this year.

That's an increase on the previous quarter when VHA lost 128,000 customers and translates into a total loss for Vodafone of 172,000 subscribers over 6 months.

Since its major infrastructure problems in 2010-11, Vodafone has lost close to 1.5 million customers - something no carrier can afford in the current market where margins are under pressure and scale is all.

The latest figures go a long way to explaining Vodafone's lack of interest in the recent spectrum auctions. If the present trend cannot be reversed Vodafone is unlikely to need extra spectrum.

Indeed n the face of what the parent company describes as "steep revenue declines" for its Australian arm, the future of Vodafone's operations here is increasingly uncertain.

7. ACMA reviews cabling regulation

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) is reviewing the rules that govern the installation of customer cabling.

In particular, ACMA is asking for industry comment on the treatment of home entertainment/theatre installations. At present such installations are covered by the Cabling Provider Rules (CPRs) if they connect to a telecommunications network - which of course is now likely to be the case. ACMA has proposed an exemption from the CPRs for "professional installers" doing this work.

But who is a "professional installer"? The CWU is concerned that the deregulatory thrust of ACMA's proposal will expose both consumers and workers to risk. The Union has argued for continuing regulation and monitoring of this type of work even if regulatory requirements are set at a lower level than those for full CPR registration.

8. iDodge: how global IT companies avoid tax

A report by a bi-partisan US congressional committee has highlighted the growing problem of tax evasion by global information economy giants.

The committee found that US global IT icon, Apple, had squirreled away over US$30 billion in profits in off-shore entities that pay virtually no tax at all. Companies based in Ireland, where the company is not classed as resident for tax purposes, are used by Apple to shelter profits made in Europe and Asia

Under a deal struck by the Irish Government back in the 1980s Apple pays only 2% tax on "earnings" in that country. The Irish holding company to which this generous arrangement applies has no employees or physical presence in Ireland and holds its board meetings in the US. It has in fact paid no tax for the last five years.

Was Apple embarrassed by these revelations? Not at all. On the contrary, CEO Tim Cook went straight onto the front foot, demanding the US government cut corporate tax rates before the company would consider repatriating profits.

The revelations are the latest in a series of cases involving similar practices belatedly attracting the attention of governments.

In the UK Google is under scrutiny from the Parliament's Public Accounts Committee. It is claimed that Google paid only œ10million in corporation tax in the UK between 2006 and 2011, despite revenues of œ11.9billion.

Like Apple Google channels profits through Ireland before sending them on to the Bermudas.

Australian authorities are also beating the drum about Google, with Assistant Treasurer David Bradbury singling out the company last year for innovative tax avoidance practices. Arrangements through which Google bills Australian customers via an Irish subsidiary which itself pays tax-reducing "royalties" to a Dutch subsidiary- dubbed the "Double Irish Dutch Sandwich" by Bradbury - have allowed Google to incur an Australian tax bill of only $74,000 for 2011 despite estimated local revenues of around $1 billion.

"The digital disruption brought about by the internet and changes in technology have transformed the way economic activity is occurring," says Bradbury.

"These changes are putting pressure not only on businesses but also on the corporate tax system in Australia and around the world."

The IT giants are at the forefront of such changes but they are not alone. Clearly international action is needed if nations are not to be held to ransom and robbed of funds by these global corporations.

9. Dhaka: majority of garment factories "vulnerable to collapse"

The majority of garment factories in the Bangladesh capital Dhaka are "vulnerable to collapse" a survey has found.

The survey was conducted by engineers in the wake of the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in which over 1,100 people - mostly women workers - lost their lives. It has found that 3 out of every 5 such buildings is sufficiently unsound to require some degree of remediation.

"To leave them unchanged would be irresponsible," said Professor Mehedi Ansary who led the investigative team from the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology.

In the aftermath of the Rana Plaza incident, many Western retailers which source garments from Bangladesh have signed up to an Accord designed to improve safety conditions in Dhaka's factories.

This would theoretically commit them to taking measures that would prevent another tragedy, as well as providing funds for improvements.

The Bangladesh Garment Makers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) has also implemented further measures.

The engineers' survey follows a new demand by BGMEA to its members to provide it with building plans and soil tests to show the structural strength of their factories.

But nothing short of a thoroughgoing overhaul -and in many cases demolition - of the current buildings is likely to offer appropriate protections to the thousands of workers currently crammed into Dhaka's death traps.

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