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Telstra cancels union talks

Telstra has walked away from enterprise agreement negotiations with staff, claiming union demands threaten the telco's national broadband network proposal.

Telstra has walked away from enterprise agreement negotiations with staff, claiming union demands threaten the telco's national broadband network proposal.

The company has been negotiating a new enterprise agreement for its employees since 15 May. According to the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), there are 11,000 Telstra workers whose collective agreement is due to expire later this year and more than 21,000 workers at Telstra who are on Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs) that will expire in the near future.

In an internal communication to employees, Telstra executives said they had put a proposal on the negotiating table which tackled work issues such as redundancy pay, hours, leave, penalties and allowances. The letter was under the names of the telco's managing director of human resources, Andrea Grant; group MD, networks and services, Michael Rocca; and group MD consumer marketing and channels, David Moffat.

The trio said the company walked away from negotiations because the ACTU and the unions themselves were pushing for "side agreements" — a memorandum of understanding and a constructive relationship agreement — which the company considered to be unlawful and to lie outside the scope of the enterprise agreements.

"Signing these side agreements with their prohibited content could disqualify Telstra from tendering for the National Broadband Network (NBN) project and for other communications cabling work," the communication said.

Not signing the agreements, however, appears to be potentially damaging to the telco, with the unions' support of Telstra's bid hinging on its acceptance of the side agreements, according to the communication.

The letter stated the unions had made it clear to management that they did not lodge a regulatory submission in support of Telsra's NBN bid because of the company's unwillingness to sign the side agreements.

According to a spokesperson for the Council, the ACTU has received legal advice that the content of the side agreements, which canvasses issues such as workers being able to cancel AWAs for collective bargaining and have access to unions, are lawful, although they have submitted them to the Department of Workplace Relations to make sure.

"We don't just go around handing out agreements without consulting with our lawyers," the spokesperson said.

When the response comes back from the Department of Workplace Relations, the unions will drop any provisions which are a legal problem, the spokesperson continued. "It's in the best interest of the employees and the union that Telstra is a prospering company."

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