Executives of one of Telstra's key unions will meet this Thursday to decide whether it will take the first step down the path of industrial action, an eventuality one union official thinks highly likely.
The Communications and Electrical and Plumbing Union (CEPU) will debate whether to hold a vote for its almost 10,000 Telstra members on whether to hold industrial action or not. If the union decides it does want to put the option to its members, it will have to apply to the Australian Industrial Relations Commission for permission to hold the vote.
Assuming that goes ahead, members will vote on whether they would be prepared to undertake specific forms of industrial actions such as 24- or 48-hour stoppages.
Burt Blackburne, national assistant secretary of the communications division of CEPU, said that he didn't want to pre-empt the union executives' decision, but his personal opinion was that they would decide on taking a ballot.
The CEPU had already warned earlier this month that industrial action was on the cards as its attempts to negotiate a collective agreement failed.
The CEPU as well as fellow unions the Australian Professional Engineers, Scientists and Managers Australia and the Community and Public Sector Union had been negotiating with Telstra for new employment agreements to replace expiring Australian Workplace Agreements. However, the talks broke down in July, and the unions have said Telstra has been unprepared to come back to the table.
Since then there has been action in the Australian Industrial Relations Commission to try and bring the telco back to talks, but the commission found that it did not have the jurisdiction to force mediation.
Last week Telstra presented a non-union agreement to its employees, following workers last month voting down other non-union agreements put to the wholesale and service advantage (call centric) divisions.
CEPU has been holding meetings around the country, explaining the situation to its members, talking to them about what they want in their agreement and more recently, canvassing the idea of industrial action. Meetings in all states except the Northern Territory have now been concluded, and the territory is planned for next month, according to Blackburne. "Right across Australia, the people are pretty supportive," he said.
When asked if he thought industrial action will occur in the next few months, Blackburne said he considered it "highly likely", although he added that Telstra might still come to the table. "The mere fact of going to a ballot might jog the process," he said. "But you just don't know."
Telstra did not respond to requests for comment.