Union demands Telstra fix flawed ballots

Unions have demanded Telstra review its industrial relations practices following the Australian Electoral Commission's (AEC) confirmation that the telco had prevented workers their right to scrutinise the ballot process in recent wage negotiations.

Unions have demanded Telstra review its industrial relations practices following the Australian Electoral Commission's (AEC) confirmation that the telco had prevented workers their right to scrutinise the ballot process in recent wage negotiations.

Telstra stubbornly continues to refuse to provide any information to the people who vote.

ACTU assistant secretary Tim Lyons

The Australian Council of Trade Unions' (ACTU) concerns centred on a dozen ballots held at Telstra in which the ACTU claimed Telstra had prevented staff from scrutinising enterprise collective agreement ballots, undermining the integrity of agreements reached under those negotiations.

"Telstra stubbornly continues to refuse to provide any information to the people who vote. What has management got to hide?" ACTU assistant secretary Tim Lyons said in a statement released late yesterday.

The ACTU had in early January written a letter of complaint to Ed Killesteyn, electoral commissioner of the AEC, which then provided voting services to Telstra for its enterprise collective agreements.

"If electors are unable to discover details of the voting process, obtain a copy of the roll, appoint a scrutineer or obtain a copy of the declared result, it cannot be said that they are fully informed or that the process is transparent," ACTU's Lyons appealed to Killesteyn in the letter.

In the response to Lyons on 16 January, Killesteyn confirmed Telstra had obstructed workers' right to elect a "scrutineer" of ballots on at least two occasions, partially taking the blame for it itself.

"As soon as we had become aware of the client's (Telstra's) position on scrutineers, we should have insisted on practices which met our minimum standards," Killesteyn said.

The right to appoint a scrutineer is one of eight AEC minimum standards for balloting processes. Electors should also have equal and timely access to information concerning a vote, assurance that ballots are secret, and reasonable time to vote.

Now the ACTU wants decisions made where balloting practices did not meet those standards to be ditched and votes recast.

"We no longer have any confidence that the ballots for these non-union deals have been conducted above-board," ACTU's Lyons said yesterday. "Ballots that did not meet the AEC's standards should be declared null and void, and the votes should be re-run in an open and transparent manner."

We have complied with the AEC's requirements at all times

Telstra spokesperson

The problem for Telstra's staff, including the IT department, which last week cast its vote on whether to accept Telstra's latest enterprise collective agreements deal, is that Telstra has since contracted privately-owned share registry firm, Link Market Services, to manage the balloting process.

In response to the ACTU's accusations, Telstra has deflected blame to the AEC.

"Telstra commissioned the AEC to conduct its ballots under their processes and we have complied with the AEC's requirements at all times," a Telstra media spokesperson said.

The ACTU's Lyons said Telstra's decision to contract Link Market Services was to avoid conforming to the AEC's standards.

"Rather than conform to the AEC's standards, Telstra simply took its business elsewhere, to a private operator more used to running ballots at company shareholder meetings," he said.

Meanwhile, staff within Telstra's IT department last week rejected the telco's latest offer, which was voted on under a ballot managed by Link Market Services.

In an email to staff obtained by ZDNet.com.au, Telstra's chief information officer John McInerney relayed to his staff that they had "narrowly rejected" Telstra's latest offer, which he thought was a good one.

"Link Market Services have advised that eligible employees in Information Technology have voted against the proposed Employee Collective Agreement by a narrow margin," wrote McInerney.

"I have always maintained that employees have the right to choose whether to accept or reject the ECA offered. As a result of this 'no' vote, employees in Information Technology have chosen to remain on their current terms and conditions."

"I maintain that the ECA proposal is a good one, and is Telstra's best offer," he said.

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