TELSTRA’S DECISION to abandon negotiations with unions for a new Enterprise Bargaining Agreement (EBA) has received a cold reception in Canberra, with Julia Gillard, Minister for Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, rejecting the company’s reasons for walking away from talks.
Responding to management’s refusal to negotiate with the ACTU and Telstra unions, Gillard indicated that it was time for Telstra to move on.
“AWAs are not part of this nation’s future because the Australian people voted at the last election to get rid of WorkChoices and unfair AWAs,” she said.
“It is in the interests of co-operative workplace relations for proper negotiations to occur in an environment of respect.”
Telstra put its decision to withdraw from negotiations down to the ACTU wanting a side agreement that would have guaranteed unions greater access to Telstra premises.
Telstra, which has been negotiating a new EBA since 15 May, said the side agreement would have also compelled Telstra to ensure its contractors had minimum conditions similar to full-time staff.
Telstra also went on the offensive against unions after the Workplace Ombudsman found that Telstra did not apply duress to employees in the AWA reoffer, or to communications technicians in an offer of AWAs earlier in 2007.
The Ombudsman’s eight-month inquiry came after the union movement accused Telstra of breaking the law by forcing staff to sign AWAs.
“We said at the time of the AWA re-offer that it was an employee’s choice to renew,” said Andrea Grant, Telstra group managing director of human resources.
“We said that some employees would choose to renew their arrangements and some wouldn’t. We said that it was the employee who got to choose – not Telstra and not a union – and that is the way it should be.”