Technology vendor NCR has downplayed the
impact of up to 90 of its field service engineers walking off the
job today, despite the potential threat to information technology
systems at airports, banks and educational institutions around the
stopped work from 6:30am this morning (AEDT) in New South Wales,
Queensland and South Australia in a dispute over pay. The strike
is scheduled to last one week.
"Obviously we've got contingency plans in place, because we
were given notification of this for a while," a spokesperson from
NCR said in a telephone interview with ZDNet Australia this
morning. He added some staff would be repositioned to deal with
gaps in service and support calls prioritised according to need
and service level agreements with customers.
"We've also got service partners who we normally work with,
and they're looking after any overflow of service as and where
needed," he said.
However, while a statement from the vendor in the early afternoon described the anticipated impact on customers as minimal at worst, the spokesperson was less assured in his earlier interview. "It'd
be stupid to say that an industrial action doesn't cause a
problem, it's more a question of where there's disruption," he
The Australian Services Union (ASU), which represents
the striking staff, said the impact of the action would be significant.
"After a few days it's going to have quite a big impact, with
the ATMs, with Sydney Airport, with Qantas, with the major banks,
they've got contracts too with some of the major supermarkets and
cash carriers and things like that," the ASU's NSW and ACT
Services branch secretary Sally McManus said this morning
following meetings with workers.
In a telephone interview with ZDNet Australia, McManus said
NCR would find it hard to maintain service levels.
"Our understanding is that they've got some contractors out
there at the moment, trying to do the work, but our understanding
is that in New South Wales they've only got five [people], and you know with
40 people on strike that's not going to help at all," she
"It's really hard actually to replace most of them because
you've got to know the machines and have the qualifications."
McManus said NCR had tried to service Sydney Airport and
Qantas by contracting an external company during previous
industrial action, but "they just ended up stuffing it up more".
The contractor concerned refused the work this time choosing to focus on its own clients instead, she explained.
While NCR estimated around 50 of its 150-strong field
service engineer workforce had walked off the job, McManus said
the real number was much higher.
"In New South Wales there's about 40 people on strike, with probably about
five people working. In South Australia, I think they've got
about 30 and its pretty much all of them. And in Queensland I'd
say it'd be about 60 percent of them, and they're probably got
about 30 workers as well," she said.
McManus said around 110 of the 150 field service engineers in those states
were members of the ASU.
Negotiations break down
Last Thursday, NCR attempted to halt the action by
sending the engineers a 42-page document outlining details of a
new pay offer.
"We've gone out directly to every services engineer with an
offer from NCR, so that these guys can make up their own mind
about whether what is being offered to them is fair and
equitable," the company's spokesperson said, noting they had
until 27 March to respond.
In this afternoon's statement, NCR said it had been "negotiating in good faith" with the ASU and had made offers that reflected the union's requests. "Unfortunately, every offer is met with a new set of claims from the union".
The vendor added that it would "continue to work directly with [its] employees and their representatives to reach a swift conclusion to the negotiations".
However, the ASU claims the latest NCR offer was not reasonable.
"They've offered three percent a year [pay increase], and a
reduction in some of the conditions," McManus said, noting the
increase was dependent on NCR being able to reduce some car
allowance, as well as to change working hours with a
month's notice, and decrease overtime wages.
"They said to us that their last offer is not negotiable," she
added. "So on that basis we said unless you move on the offer,
the strike's going to keep going."
McManus alleged the affected workers were poorly paid in
"Our average member earns AU$33,000," she said. "The starting
rate is AU$29,800. The pay increases they've had over the last
five years have been less than CPI [Consumer Price Index], so
their real wages have gone backward. And so the three percent
would only just keep them up with CPI, and there's no
compensation for the other years of lost wages."
McManus said Apple and Microsoft certifications were common
among the workers, with some of them having tertiary education at
TAFE or university level.