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Telco e-Bulletin 2013 # 3

  1. Telstra Health and Safety elections: support your union's candidates
  2. Health and Safety committees - who decides?
  3. Telstra to push ahead with national Dexbond trial
  4. Optus moves on restructure
  5. Tester's dispute scheduled for conciliation
  6. CWU seeks fair treatment from trainees
  7. Emergency services members fight for fair EA
  8. Government round table on ICT skills policy
  9. Labor moves on 457 visas

1. Telstra Health and Safety elections: support your union's candidates

Elections are currently underway for employee representatives to the national Telstra Health and Safety Committee. The ballot runs until midnight on Friday 8 March.

All members are strongly urged to cast a vote in these elections.

There are three candidates in the election who have been endorsed by the CWU:

  • Rob Riek who is from the Queensland Branch of the union
  • Steve Sommerville from Victoria
  • Peter Wasilewski from New South Wales

The CWU recommends these candidates because it believes that union members are likely to be the most effective health and safety representatives and committee members as they have the resources of the whole union behind them.

Unfortunately, the voting method adopted by Telstra means that you can only vote for one candidate even though there are four positions to be filled. The CWU has told Telstra that it disagrees with this approach and the matter is still under discussion.

In the meantime it is important to maximise the vote for our members. Statements from the three candidates are available on the Telstra intranet. Read them and then cast a vote for one of the three union-endorsed candidates.

2. Health and safety committees - who decides?

The Work Health and Safety Act which came into effect last year provides for health and safety committees to be formed in an enterprise either at the request of employees (or their health and safety representative) or on the employer's own initiative.

The Act is quite open-ended about the number of such committees that can be set up in a business and about the way such committees may be structured other than to say that "at least half the members of the committee must be workers who are not nominated by the person conducting the business" i.e. Telstra.

So who decides how many health and safety committees there should be in Telstra, how many employee representatives are on any committee and how they are chosen?

Under the Act these questions should either be "agreed" between Telstra and the relevant "workers" (which includes sub-contractors) or be settled by Comcare inspector. To the CWU's knowledge, neither of these processes have taken place in relation to the national Health and Safety Committee.

The union of course supports such a committee and has endorsed candidates in previous elections for it. We have been concerned this time, however, about Telstra's unilateral decisions about the size and structure of the committee and about the method of voting adopted.

For instance, employees may only vote for one candidate when there are four positions vacant. And Telstra has decreed that only one representative may be elected from each of four business areas, irrespective of the number of employees in each area.

These arrangements are likely to dilute the impact of any organised vote by employees. CWU members, for instance, may wish to support a number of union-endorsed candidates across several work areas but under this system they can't do so - they can only vote for one person.

Nor have Telstra indicated how the seven business units from which candidates are drawn fit into the four business "areas" to be represented on the committee so employees cannot be sure exactly what "constituency" any particular candidate will represent.

Telstra has agreed to continue discussions with the CWU about these issues and about health and safety structures in the company more broadly.

In the end, the health and safety issues that are of immediate concern to members such as rest breaks or the use of hazardous chemicals need to be taken up and addressed at workplace level through the establishment of work groups and the election of health and safety representatives.

The CWU wishes to hear from members who would be willing to participate in this process.

3. Telstra to push ahead with national Dexbond trial

Telstra has informed the CWU that it intends to conduct a national trial of the controversial Dexbond 10B product despite unresolved issues surrounding its use.

As reported in E-bulletin #2, Dexbond is a sealant designed for use in the Customer Access Network (CAN). It contains carcinogens in the form of isocynates and the CWU has raised concerns about employees' exposure to these chemicals.

Reproduced below is a section of Telstra's internal information based on the manufacturer's Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) - which must be produced by law


(Parts A, B, & uncured mixture)

Do not handle until all safety precautions have been read and understood.

Danger May cause serious eye damage (Part A)

Danger May cause allergy or asthma symptoms or breathing difficulties if inhaled (Part B)

To avoid breathing fume or mist. Unlikely to be exposed, as item is not volatile.

Warning Suspected of causing cancer. Causes skin, eye, and respiratory irritation. May cause an allergic skin reaction.

Interested members can check the full MSDS at The information provided there is hardly reassuring.

Telstra now says it intends to trial the product nationally across 4 service delivery areas. The trial will involve about 100 employees and participation will be voluntary.

The CWU strongly advises members and other employees NOT to participate in this trial.

The union is not satisfied that the product is safe for use. Any member who feels he/she is under any pressure to participate in the trial should contact the relevant state branch immediately.

4. Optus moves on restructure

The CWU has held discussions with Optus about the recently announced restructure in the company.

As reported in E-bulletin #2, Optus is in the process of implementing changes which will largely affect its marketing, IT and networks areas with some minor impacts in finance, wholesale and HR. It is not expected that there will be any impact on call centre staff.

Optus has yet to confirm the number of jobs that will be affected but the CWU understands that it will be fewer than those in last year's cuts and fewer than the figure of 450 that has appeared in some sections of the media. The state which will be most affected is NSW.

The restructure is being driven by both local and regional considerations. On a regional level Optus owner Singtel is seeking efficiencies in areas such as IT. On a local level, Optus is trying to reposition itself to take advantage of NBN-related opportunities while cutting costs in the context of declining revenues.

The CWU has questioned the logic of the cuts, especially in the networks area where the decisions appears at odds with Optus' decision to increase its focus on the wireline market. There is already a public perception that Optus' fixed network is less robust than that of its main competitor Telstra and that it has suffered from lack of investment over many years. Cut backs on network maintenance and development resources can scarcely help.

Optus has undertaken to provide more detailed information about the restructure in the coming weeks. IN preparation for these discussions the CWU is interested in hearing from members working in networks and in any of the other relevant sections of Optus about the likely effects of cuts to staff in these areas.

5. CWU seeks fair treatment for trainees

The CWU is currently fighting on two fronts to protect the conditions of telecommunications trainees.

The E-bulletin has reported on the Excelior issue a number of times. Basically it concerns the question of entitlements to travel allowances (TA) and excess travelling time (ETT) payments for trainees who have to travel significant distances to attend courses.

Excelior, backed up by the national employers' group AIG, says the trainees are not entitled to such payments - and shouldn't be. The CWU of course says they are - and should be.

The matter is now about to be thrashed out in two forums - in Fair Work Australia and the Federal Court.

Fair Work Australia is currently conducting a review of Modern Awards part of which will include consideration of apprenticeship wages and trainees conditions. As part of this process the AIG has applied to vary the Telecommunications Services Award to make it quite clear that trainees are not entitled to TA or ETT payments.

The CEPU as a whole (i.e. the Communications, Electrical and Plumbing Divisions) is opposing this application.

Meanwhile our appeal against last year's unfavourable Federal Magistrates Court decision on this issue is due to be heard on 8 March. Again, the whole of the CEPU is supporting this appeal in recognition of the fact that the issue had the potential to affect trainees in areas other than telecommunications.

Members will be kept informed of progress in this important case.

6. Testers dispute scheduled for conciliation

The CWU has still not been able to reach agreement with Telstra on the correct banding level of testers. The issue originally arose when experienced testers coming onto the new Enterprise Agreement (EA) were not graded at the correct banding level, being placed at Band 5 rather than Band 7.

Telstra subsequently argued that in fact the work being performed by testers has changed sufficiently to warrant it being regarded as a new job with different banding levels.

As reported in the last E-bulletin, Telstra has proposed that the matter be looked at by a panel of three people, one from CWU, one from Telstra and one independent expert. This is a procedure allowed for under the EA when a new job has been designed and there is disagreement on how it should be classified.

Interested members can find the relevant clauses under Workstream principles In Appendix D (p.56) of the EA.

In its most recent correspondence with the CWU on this matter Telstra has proposed a number of possible independent experts and informed the union it will be taking its proposal for a review panel to Fair Work Australia (FWA). A conciliation conference will be held in FWA on 14 March.

The CWU's position remains that the review process in Appendix D of the EA is not relevant as this is not a new job but rather an existing job that Telstra is trying to downgrade.

E-bulletin #4 will report on the further progress of this dispute.

7. Emergency services workers fight for fair EA

Emergency call service workers in Victoria have undertaken industrial action in pursuit of a new Enterprise Agreement.

ESTA handles emergency calls for Victoria's emergency services with operations covering the Country Fire Authority (CFA) and State Emergency Services (SES) as well as Triple Zero. Recently its operations have been expanded to include ambulance and police in regional areas.

ESTA workers from a number of unions, including the CWU, recently voted to approve industrial action in face of the Victorian Liberal government's refusal to consider any pay rises above 2.5% for state government workers.

This policy has already provoked lengthy disputes with nurses and teachers in the state.

ESTA workers are also seeking recognition in their pay structures of the multi-skilling that is being required of them as a result of the range of areas ESTA covers.

Following the implementation of bans, the CFA and Metropolitan Fire Brigade have tried to get Fair Work Australia (FWA) to terminate the industrial action on the grounds that it was endangering public safety. To date, however, FWA has not been convinced of this argument and, with some modifications, bans remain in place while negotiations continue.

8. Government round table on ICT skills policy

The CWU has participated in a Round Table discussion aimed at developing a national Information and Communications Technology skills policy.

Earlier this year, the federal government's Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency (AWPA) issued a discussion paper on demand and supply of ICT skills in Australia. The move was part of a process begun at the Prime Minister's digital economy forum last year.

Companies, professional bodies, Skills Councils and unions such as the CWU have been warning government of skill shortages in this key sector of the economy for some years. The high proportion of 457 visa holders who are working in ICT is just one indicator of the problem. Falling enrolment and completion rates in both higher education and vocational courses in another.

The CWU has welcomed the sharper attention that is now being given to this issue nationally. It is concerned however that AWPA's focus at this stage appears to be on the IT skill "pipeline" from schools and through universities rather than on the vocational training relevant to most of the telecommunications workforce.

The CWU will be pursuing this issue further when the next version of the AWPA paper is circulated for comment.

9. Labor moves on 457 visas

The federal Labor government has moved to tighten the rules on the use of 457 visas in the light of evidence of their abuse.

The visas are supposedly designed to allow employers to address short-term skill shortages without creating an underclass of underpaid and vulnerable "guest workers". So in theory 457 visa workers are supposed to be paid at the same rates as local workers and enjoy the same conditions.

The practice, however, is different. Too often 457 workers are being underpaid or working in unsafe conditions. And they are less likely to complain about such issues than local workers because they depend on the employer for their visas and for the chance to get permanent residency in Australia.

Workers on 457 visas are also being used by employers to fill the gaps created by a lack of employer investment in training. This is the case in the telecommunications sector where, for instance, the NBN project is facing a shortage of network designers. The CWU understands that workers on 457 visas are being used by some contractors to meet this shortfall.

A variant of this pattern now appearing in both the telecommunications and finance sectors sees 457 visas being used by multinational companies to bring a workforce into Australia to be trained in functions a client (Telstra, a major bank) wishes to outsource. Once trained, the workers go back to home countries with lower wage structures and perform the work remotely.

This practice is a clear abuse of a scheme that it supposed to fill skill gaps, not facilitate skills transfer. Such abuses can only be tackled by stronger requirements for "market testing" by employers i.e. they must be able to demonstrate that there are no local workers available to do the job.

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