The Australian Industrial Relations Commission has back flipped, saying over the weekend it had no jurisdiction to adjudicate the ongoing dispute between Telstra and its unions, despite giving a contradictory finding just last week.
The commission found on Saturday that the current Work Choices laws provided no rights to good faith bargaining, according to a statement by the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU).
"The commission, despite finding bad faith behaviour by Telstra, has made clear that the current law provides no basis to ensure the parties bargain in good faith and that workers have a genuine right to be represented and to bargain collectively," ACTU assistant secretary Chris Walton said in a statement.
"I have no jurisdiction ... The legislation as it stands gives the parties the rights they have taken. There's nothing I can do about what the law is. The law is written by parliament; it's simply my job, my role, to apply the law as it stands," senior deputy president Brian Lacy said, according to notes taken at the hearing by the ACTU.
Walton said the decision highlighted the necessity of getting rid of the Work Choices laws.
Unions had been looking to the AIRC to mediate after negotiations in July broke down with Telstra over new agreements to replace expiring Australian Workplace Agreements.
Early last week Lacy had found that the commission could have powers to play a role in the dispute due to his view that Telstra had not truly wanted to negotiate, a decision Telstra had intended on appealing. However, that hope was quashed in the hearing on Saturday.
Telstra itself had no specific comment to make on the decision. "We're now focused on the vote and ensuring our employees have their say," a spokesperson said.
Today and tomorrow, 380 workers in Telstra's wholesale and service advantage division will be voting on a new agreement.
The offer contained a minimum 12.5 per cent increase over three years, plus up to an extra 7.5 per cent paid as annual performance bonuses. Additionally, it protects current key terms and conditions such as long service and maternity leave, rostered days off, flexitime, shift penalties, overtime, hours of work, and redundancy pay, according to Telstra.
"Telstra is an industry leader for pay and conditions and the proposed agreements offer our staff excellent terms and benefits which will ensure Telstra remains an employer of choice in an increasingly competitive labour market," the spokesperson said. "We now just want to get on with the vote and let our employees decide."
Sol Trujillo was expected by the ACTU to address workers by video before they voted.
"Hopefully he will explain to workers why he received a 14 per cent pay rise taking his annual remuneration to $13.4 million, which is equivalent to over $30,000 increase a week — but wants workers to accept a pay rise below inflation," the ACTU's Walton said.