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Telco e-Bulletin 2013 # 1

  1. Telstra half yearly results
  2. Rest breaks in Telstra contact call centres.
  3. Telstra: banding of testers.
  4. CWU blocks attempts to lock in lower bandings.
  5. Warnambool exchange fire raises OHS issues.
  6. Award modernisation.
  7. Telstra Digital Business review.
  8. Travel allowance for Excelior trainees.
  9. Silcar agreement approved.
  10. Government seeks input on ICT skills strategy.

1. Telstra half yearly results: growing with the flow

Telstra has reported strong customer growth and a year-on-year growth in net profits of 8.8% for the period up to December 2012.

In a period where the company's chief domestic competitors, Optus and Vodafone, have admitted to finding the going tough in the mobile market, Telstra has added a further 607,000 mobile customers in just 6 months.

Telstra now has 3.3 million mobile broadband customers and is set to continue its aggressive 4G roll-out strategy, with CEO David Thodey flagging a further $1.2 billion spend on the network in the current financial year.

Growth was also reported in other emerging market areas such as cloud computing. Network Applications and Services (NAS), the section of Telstra largely responsible for such new IP-based products, reported double digit (10.6%) revenue growth.

Meanwhile, traditional fixed line revenues have continued to decline, dropping 10.8% in the 12 month period. While fixed broadband revenues grew by 4.4%, this was not enough to offset the downward trend overall. Total fixed line revenues fell by 4% and now constitute less than 30% of Telstra's total sales revenue.

There is nothing new, of course, about these trends. But what the results show is Telstra's continuing ability to ride the waves of change through capitalising on and extending the network investments of the Trujillo era (mobiles and IP core).

Revenues from Telstra's National Broadband Network (NBN) deal also help here. Indeed, as former CWU industrial officer Kevin Morgan points out in industry newsletter Communications Day, a policy initiative that was designed to limit Telstra's role in the broadband era has freed it from the need to invest in the fixed network while providing funds for investment in the growth areas of the market.

No wonder CEO David Thodey continues to look relaxed and comfortable!

2. Rest breaks in Telstra contact call centres

The CWU has made a number of representations to Telstra over changes to rest breaks in the Service Delivery Contact Centres in Townsville and Perth.

One of the aims of the last round of Telstra Enterprise Agreement (EA) negotiations was to harmonise conditions across the company. In line with this aim, the new agreement made provision for Telstra to make changes to rest breaks for some specific groups of employees to bring them into line with conditions elsewhere in the company.

At the same time, however, the consultation clause in the EA obliged Telstra to consult with both employees and their union about such changes.

Now Telstra has decided to implement changes that mean that groups of employees in the Perth and Townsville call centres will have their rest breaks entitlements reduced significantly - from 5 x 10 minute and 2 x 15 minute breaks per shift under the previous EA to 2 x 15 and 1 x30 (unpaid) minute breaks per shift.

The CWU opposes this change which it considers has been introduced without adequate consultation.

The current rest breaks arise out of a study conducted in 1997 that found that the intensity and repetitiveness of the work being performed by certain call centre employees warranted regular breaks in order to minimise health and safety problems.

The CWU has been provided with no evidence to suggest that the nature of the work being performed by these employees has changed sufficiently to justify a watering down of health and safety protections.

On the contrary, reports from members suggest that the psychological and physical pressures on call centre operators continue to be very high.

The CWU believes that no change to existing entitlements should be made until a thorough and impartial examination of work practices and related health and safety risks in the affected centres has been conducted.

3. Telstra: banding of testers

The CWU is currently attempting to resolve a dispute with Telstra over the correct banding of testers.

The issue has arisen as a result of employees' moving from the Job Family to the Workstream model, with numbers of AWA-based employees coming back onto the Enterprise Agreement

Employees who had been classified as testers under the Job Family model have found themselves translated into CFW5s under the Workstream section of the EA with no opportunity for progression to CFW7. Under the standard EA conditions, employees classified as testers can be required to work at Band 5 level for up to 12 months but then automatically move to Band 7, provided they are competent.

In the CWU's view there is no provision under the current EA for testers to be kept at Band 5 level indefinitely.

The CWU has made a number of representations to Telstra on this matter in line with the requirements of the dispute resolution process. The most recent meeting was held on 6 February and Telstra has now undertaken to review the issue further and to assess the scale of the problem (number of employees affected etc).

If the issue cannot be resolved with Telstra directly the union will continue to pursue the matter in Fair Work Australia.

A related issue affecting testing functions is the decision by Telstra to "blend" certain back-of-house and front-of-house testing roles in Service Delivery Technical Services Group -Contact Centres as part of the broader reorganisation of work in these areas.

The "blending" involves front-of-house fault consultants being trained to take over functions formerly performed by specialist testers at higher banding levels -of course with no upgrades for the consultants.

This matter was also raised by the CWU at the 6 February meeting. Telstra and the CWU are yet to agree on an approach to this issue.

4. CWU blocks attempts to lock in lower bandings

The CWU has succeeded in putting a stop to attempts to disadvantage Telstra AWA-based employees who want to transfer to the Enterprise Agreement (EA).

Since the finalisation of the new EA last year, significant number of AWA-based employees have sought to come onto the Agreement.

One of the key issues for AWA employees eligible to work under the EA Workstream model (i.e. the former Part A/Category 1) is the banding level they will be assigned to when they move from the Job Family system.

Last year, members in this situation reported that they were being required to sign "contracts" agreeing to accept certain banding levels as a precondition for coming back onto the EA.

The documents also required employees to agree to certain work conditions such as the averaging of the 36 ó hour week over a number of weeks before they could transfer to the new agreement.

The CWU has indicated to Telstra that it considers such requirements are essentially in breach of the EA and possibly the law. The "contracts" have subsequently been withdrawn by Telstra.

Any members who have signed such documents and who have not already had their status clarified should contact their state branch.

5. Award modernisation

The development of a new Telstra enterprise award is a major item on the CWU's agenda for 2013.

Last year CWU members had an important win when Fair Work Australia (FWA) rejected Telstra's application to cancel all its current awards and replace them with the Telecommunications Industry Award (TIA). If Telstra had been successful, the award "safety net" for future enterprise bargaining would have been weaker than it is at present in several key areas such as working hours.

Last year's win is not the end of the story though. Under current law, Telstra's awards still have to be "modernised" i.e. streamlined to create a new single modern award.

Telstra, the CWU and other Telstra unions held a preliminary meeting to discuss timetabling of award modernisation discussions late last year. Another meeting to begin constructing a modern award will be held on 12 February.

Members will be kept informed of the progress of these discussions. It is to be hoped that agreement can be reached on major issues such as the 36 ó hour week.

Ultimately it is Fair Work Australia which has the power to determine the content of the new award. But it is obviously best if the proposed award has the support of all those involved in developing it.

6. Warnambool exchange fire raises OHS issues

The fire that gutted the Telstra exchange in Warnambool, Victoria, received widespread publicity because it highlighted the vulnerability of vital community services to network failure.

Of equal importance, however, are the implications of the fire for the health and safety of Telstra employees. This question was raised by the CWU in a meeting with Telstra on 17 January.

Of particular concern to the union were the conditions in which those who worked on restoration of services had to operate - the possible presence of asbestos and other hazardous materials in the exchange rubble and in the air, for instance.

But the incident also raises broader questions as regards fire safety - and health and safety generally -in Telstra buildings, many of which have seen declining levels of maintenance over the last decade or more. It is notable that Issues of a similar nature have recently been raised in an article in the Bendigo advertiser.

At the January meeting, Telstra outlined steps it had taken after the fire in order to ensure acceptable air quality for those working in the remains of the building. However the union is still awaiting a detailed response to a range of concerns it raised e.g.

  • How the air quality was measured
  • What possible carcinogens were on site
  • Whether there was an asbestos register for the site
  • What fire safety/evacuation training is currently provided for workers who enter such buildings (both Telstra and non-Telstra).

Telstra's response to these questions will determine whether the CWU seeks the involvement of relevant health and safety authorities in the matter.

7. Telstra Digital Business review

The CWU will participate in a review of a range of work functions in the Service Delivery area utilising the Digital Business product.

The transition to fibre-based services, in which the National Broadband Network (NBN) roll-out is playing a major part, means that there is increasing demand for Communication Technicians (CTs) to perform more complex work within the customer premises.

Whether it is installing, testing and configuring routers, installing new customer data cabling or establishing and testing Ethernet and/or WiFi connections throughout the premises, there are new skills which will be required of the telecommunications field workforce of the future.

The question in Telstra, as usual, is where these skills fit in the current hierarchy i.e. in the agreed Telstra job classification system.

The CWU has been concerned that Digital Business work (largely installation and testing of routers) which the union considers should be graded at Band 7 level is being performed by Band 4 CTs.

Following representations on the issue, Telstra has agreed for the CWU to participate in a field-based investigation of the work being performed by the CTs. The first ride-on is scheduled to take place next week in Victoria.

Members will be kept informed of the outcomes of this review.

8. Travel time payment for Excelior trainees

An upcoming CWU appeal against a recent Federal Magistrates Court decision will have consequences for trainees across many industries.

Last year a Federal Magistrate found that a CWU member employed by training provider Excelior was not entitled to payment for time spent and expenses incurred while travelling to and from training.

Trainees should be entitled to be reimbursed for expenses incurred when attending training courses.

This was despite provisions in the relevant modern industrial award (the Telecommunications Industry Award) which explicitly stated that employee directed by the employer to travel in the employee's own time to transact company business will be paid travelling time and all expenses incurred while travelling ..

The judgement basically rested on the issue of whether or not training was "work" (or "company business") and, more particularly, whether time spent travelling to and from training was "work". In the CWU's view, the Magistrate took a narrow and somewhat pedantic position on these questions with the result that trainees are being denied a justifiable and necessary entitlement.

The fact is that while the Court splits hairs about what is and what is not "work", trainees are having to sleep in their own cars because they can't afford accommodation while attending training!

The CWU's appeal against this decision will be heard on 8 March.

At the same time, employer groups are trying to lock in the original decision through the current review of Modern Awards. The ACTU will be opposing this move which will disadvantage all trainees.

9. Silcar agreement approved

Fair Work Australia has approved the Silcar Telepower agreement that was voted up by employees in January.

As reported last year, the three year agreement delivers pay rises of 4% per annum over and above compulsory increases to employer superannuation contributions. It also contains improvements in a number of allowances.

The provisions of the agreement will take effect as from 30 December 2012.

10. Government seeks input on ICT skills strategy

The federal government's Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency (AWPA) has issued a discussion paper addressing skills development in the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) workforce.

The production of the paper follows discussions at the Prime Minister's Digital Economy Forum in October last year. Speakers at that forum identified the ICT skills "pipeline" (i.e. demand for and supply of skilled ICT workers) as a key factor affecting productivity throughout the Australian economy.

The CWU has argued for many years that declining levels of investment in training, especially in the telecommunications sector, was leading both to specific skill shortages and to a decline in the overall quality of training in the industry.

The trend has been exacerbated by a relaxation of regulatory standards in areas such as customer cabling where for many years (until recently) no specific training was required to install certain types of cabling (optic fibre, structured cabling).

The National Broadband Network project has now brought these and other ICT skills issues into sharper focus and they have (at last) attracted the interest of government. While much of the AWPA paper focuses on specialised professional level functions (software applications and programming, systems analysts, web developers etc), issues relating to the range of skills required by communications technicians in the fibre environment fall well within the range of the discussion.

The CWU will have input into the discussion through its membership of such bodies as IBSA (the relevant skills council) and traineeship facilitator Communications and Information Technology Training (CITT). The union will also be participating in an AWPA round table discussion in late February.

A final report from AWPA on ICT skills is scheduled for release in mid 2013.

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