Unionised Telstra employees “live to fight another day”

The Communications, Electrical, Plumbing Union (CEPU) vowed this week to put more pressure on Telstra (ASX:TLS) to fill the salary gap between unionised and non-unionised employees as the results of an internal poll became clear.

Eligible Telstra employees voted in favour of an eight per cent pay rise, to be delivered over two years under a new enterprise agreement that covered both those who were part of one of three unions representing the telco’s employees, and those who weren’t. The ballot resulted in the first agreement since 2005 to cover both sets of employees, with a resounding 86 per cent of eligible employees voting “yes” to the email-based poll delivered between 2 and 8 September.

The agreement comes after staff of the telco's Consumer Division were told they would have to wait until March before they heard about additional pay rises.

A Telstra spokesperson said the new agreement was a good result for employees, who gained other benefits such as salary packaging, rights to arbitration and forced redundancy as a last resort.

However, the result was counter to the sentiment of the largest representative union, CEPU, who earlier in the year voted against such a pay rise. The union was fighting for rises of an additional 2.5 per cent for unionised employees to cover a gap in salary created when Telstra offered a lump sup “start up allowance” to some employees at the finalisation of the previous enterprise agreement in 2008.

Assistant secretary to the Victorian branch, John Ellery, told Computerworld Australia prior to the poll that the union had agreed with Telstra not to run a “vote no” campaign against the pay rise, but also committed not to endorse the offer.

“Our members were very solid in rejecting it but whether that’s carried into the non-members and into other states that originally supported it even in our ballots, I don’t know,” Ellery said before the poll was issued.

While CEPU represents the largest proportion of unionised Telstra employees, various aspects of the telco are also represented by two other unions - the Association of Professional Engineers, Scientists Managers, Australia (APESMA) and Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) - both of which had voted in favour of the pay rise offer. CEPU itself was divided on the issue, with a national breakdown of a union poll showing members in Queensland, New South Wales and South Australia had voted yes.

Divisional President and secretary of the Victorian telecommunications and services branch, Len Cooper, said he was happy with the result, but that the union would continue to fight to fill the salary gap between unionised and non-unionised employees.

“That campaign will go on although we can’t use industrial action because of the law, until the agreement expires now in two years’ time,” he said. “In the meantime we’ll use whatever pressure we can on the company until they come good.”

The union will meet with Telstra next week to discuss the results and negotiate implementation of the agreement, as well as timetabling over further talks surrounding additional pay rises.

The telco will also meet with Fair Work Australia to formalise the agreement.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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