Telstra may be fined US$213m for discrimination

Telecoms industry heavyweight Telstra could face fines of up to A$420 million (US$213 million) following a case concerning discrimination brought against it by the Communications Union.

SYDNEY (ZDNet Australia)--Telecoms industry heavyweight Telstra could face fines of up to A$420 million (US$213 million) following a case concerning discrimination brought against it by the Communications Union.

The Union claims that an email sent by Telstra's former Employment Relations Manager, Rob Cartwright, to his management team was in contravention of the Employment Relations Act.

According to the Union, the email was discriminatory in nature as it outlined the criteria to be followed when selecting redundancy candidates -- which treated staff on Australian Workplace Agreements (AWA) more favourably than those on individual Telstra Awards.

"The criteria meant that people not on an Australian Workplace Agreement were treated less favourably than those on an AWA...who had shown greater commitment to the organisation [Telstra]," Union organiser Sean Rahui told ZDNet.

"The judge has reserved his decision on penalties but has implied that it could be as much A$420 million against Telstra," Rahui said.

Telstra's carefully worded response was that Justice Finkelstein had found that "Telstra hadn't positively disproved the assertion that the email had injured employees".

The A$420 million figure was a "purely speculative comment" and it's "irresponsible of the Union to be bandying that about," Telstra's public affairs manager of human resources, Megan Lane, said.

Lane said that if there was to be a penalty it "should be nominal ... this was not a case of flagrant breach of the Act," she said.

"Telstra's policies and practices are to ensure all staff are treated fairly and equally and we make no distinction in the way we manage staff on the basis of employment agreements," Lane said.

According to Lane, Cartwright's email, and a clarifying one he sent immediately afterwards, "was reminding his staff that they should ensure that staff were treated with respect and dignity" regardless of their employment arrangements.

"That explanation was not rejected [by Jusice Finkelstein]," Lane added.

The Communications Union has also voiced its concern that Cartwright has since been appointed to senior deputy president at the Industrial Relations Commission.

"This raises questions as to his ability to preside over the Employment Relations Act and the Industrial Relations Commission because he’s been found guilty under the Act that he’s to protect," Rahui said.