Thodey extends olive branch to unions

New Telstra chief executive David Thodey today wrote to Telstra employees and unions pledging to end the lengthy stand-off between management and staff by negotiating a new enterprise agreement in "good faith".

New Telstra chief executive David Thodey today wrote to Telstra employees and unions pledging to end the lengthy stand-off between management and staff by negotiating a new enterprise agreement in "good faith".

Today we are pleased to be making a commitment to you that we will bargain in good faith

Telstra CEO David Thodey

The telco has faced a wave of industrial action from unions such as the Communications Electrical and Plumbing Union (CEPU) since late last year and has refused to negotiate with worker's representatives.

"Today we are pleased to be making a commitment to you that we will bargain in good faith and negotiate a new enterprise agreement which is fair and rewards excellent performance," Thodey and Telstra's group managing director of human resources Andrea Grant wrote in an email to staff published today by CEPU after Telstra faxed the union a copy.

The move is one of Thodey's first known actions as Telstra's CEO after taking over this month from his predecessor Sol Trujillo, who had been targeted by unions for his antagonistic approach.

Noting that Labor's new Workplace Relations laws were due to commence on 1 July, Thodey said Telstra was "committed" to treating employees and their representatives with respect, and the telco would consult with unions ahead of the formal bargaining process.

"We expect to commence formal negotiations with employees on Enterprise Agreements (EAs) and expired Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs) early in July 2009," the Telstra pair wrote. "We will take the time over the coming weeks to consider the new laws in detail and finalise the processes that we will put in place to be ready for the negotiations to commence."

[Telstra] basically flicked us a letter, stating that from 1 July they will follow the law

CEPU national president Ed Husic

However, Telstra's main union, CEPU, did not react well to Telstra's move. CEPU national president Ed Husic said in an email to journalists that Telstra had "basically flicked us a letter, stating that from 1 July they will follow the law".

"They never wrote back to unions, who have asked for months — on behalf of members — to get back to the bargaining table," the union added in a statement on its website. Claiming Telstra had "stumbled at the starting blocks", the union described Telstra's letter as having "the warmth and genuineness of a public notice".

"Sure the CEO's changed — but today shows that the mindset remains the same," the union added. "The new laws were passed months ago, it's been known for ages that these laws were coming — so why didn't Telstra clear the air and sit back down and talk with unions weeks ago?"

A Telstra spokesperson was not immediately available to comment.