Workplace watchdog tackles Telstra over AWA claims

Summary:The Workplace Ombudsman has begun investigating claims that some Telstra employees were made to sign up to Workplace Agreements under duress late last year.

The Workplace Ombudsman has begun investigating claims that some Telstra employees were made to sign up to Workplace Agreements under duress late last year.

The allegations around the AWAs first arose last November, after the incoming Labor government promised to abolish the controversial Workchoices laws.

"When we met with employees we found that there was a considerable amount of pressure applied to some to sign up to a new AWA by Telstra's defined date," president of the Communications Workers Union (CWU), Len Cooper, told ZDNet Australia.

According to Cooper, many employees were given the misleading information by the telco that they would not be able to engage in enterprise bargaining and that their pay would suffer if they returned to a union award rate.

"Those claims were being made haphazardly by Telstra managers, but what they were saying isn't true: in many cases employees didn't go onto AWAs for increased pay, but for other types of incentives," he said.

The claims by the CEPU are complete nonsense

Telstra

"People were frightened they would take a pay cut, but there were others who were told they would lose their jobs if they didn't sign on to a new agreement."

Telstra denied the allegations made by the CWU and its parent union, the Communications, Electrical and Plumbing Union (CEPU). "The claims by the CEPU are complete nonsense," a Telstra spokesperson said.

"Many of our AWA employees earn significantly higher pay than is available under the Enterprise Agreement and all of our communications with employees emphasise that the re-offer is a totally voluntary process," the spokesperson continued.

CWU president Len Cooper said that allegations over AWAs have been occurring since as far back as 1998, when the agreements were first introduced by the telco.

"Up until now, the problem has been proving it," he said. "A lot of people just weren't willing to come forward back then."

As many as 19,000 Telstra workers are employed under AWAs, but the number of complaints relating to the CWU's allegations is unknown. "At this stage we don't know how many workers are going to come forward," a spokesperson for the Workplace Ombudsman said.

CWU's Cooper said that many of the complaints so far have come from the technical and maintenance division of the telco but put it down to the fact that it is the most unionised sector of the company.

He believes it was the company's intention to sign as many unionised workers onto AWAs as possible before industrial action takes place, saying: "It's an attempt by Telstra to weaken the union's attempts to get a decent enterprise bargaining agreement."

However, Telstra spokesperson said the decision to sign an AWA remains the individual employee's choice: "Some employees will choose to renew and some will choose not to. It is the employee who gets to choose -- not Telstra and not a union -- and that is the way it should be."

Topics: Government, Government : AU, IT Employment, Telcos, Telstra

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