The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) received a day of grace to prepare for legal action from Telstra, which alleged the unions had provided false information to employees.
Telstra yesterday commenced proceedings against the ACTU for providing false and misleading statements to Telstra employees.
"Our employees have told us that they have been left confused by some of the unions' claims — we don't want this confusion to continue," Andrea Grant, Telstra group managing director for HR, said in a statement yesterday, adding that Telstra's requests that the unions stop spreading misinformation had been ignored.
The alleged misinformation spread by the union suggested the reduction of employee wage rates, reduced overtime benefits and fewer union official permits.
However, after a brief session this morning at the Federal Court, the hearing was adjourned until 9:45am tomorrow in order to give the ACTU more time to respond to Telstra's claim.
ACTU secretary Jeff Lawrence said the unions sought to provide accurate information to the employees, who relied on them for advice.
"The action is being brought under what remains of the Work Choices IR laws — everyone knows these laws are biased towards big employers like Telstra," he said in a statement.
While Telstra was revving its legal machine yesterday, the ACTU was celebrating a finding by the Australian Industrial Relations Commission (AIRC), which said the Commission had the jurisdiction to act as a circuit-breaker to spur on negotiations between Telstra and the unions.
The Commission had been considering its powers since it held a hearing recently to mediate between Telstra and the unions to which the telco did not show up. The hearing was an application to conduct a secret ballot on whether Telstra workers would support a union-negotiated collective agreement, since Telstra had walked out of union talks in July, and had blackballed the ACTU last month. Telstra said there was no jurisdiction for the ballot application.
AIRC senior deputy president Lacy, who conducted the ballot hearing, said a "fair reading of the documentation" showed that "Telstra's strategy from the outset was to make it appear that it was prepared to negotiate an agreement with the unions but without any real intention to do so".
Lacy found that the disputes clause in the workplace agreement empowered the Commission to play a role in mediating the dispute, acting as a "circuit breaker in the event of the intransigence of one party".
"This decision vindicates the unions' position and contains a scathing assessment of Telstra's industrial relations strategy," the ACTU's Lawrence said in a statement.
The ACTU said Lacy will hold a further hearing to decide whether the Commission will oversee the secret ballot.