Telstra spied on union calls, claims CEPU

The Communications, Electrical and Plumbing Union has been fighting a running battle with Telstra for the past 18 months in an attempt to win a new enterprise bargaining agreement.

One of Telstra's main unions has accused the telco of listening in on its conference calls with unionised staff in an attempt to pick up intelligence on its industrial action and bargaining plans.

According to Len Cooper, Victorian branch secretary of the Communications, Electrical and Plumbing Union, the union recently discovered that several Telstra senior managers had listened in -- without any declaration -- to union conferences in the first half of 2010. This story was first broken by the AustralianIT.

The CEPU has been fighting a running battle with Telstra for the past 18 months in an attempt to win a new enterprise bargaining agreement.

"We think it's a breach of good faith bargaining, in that one side is spying on the other," said Cooper in a phone interview this morning, adding the union believed it was also a criminal matter and had referred the matter to the Australian Federal Police -- which has thus far not indicated to the union what action it might take. The matter will be discussed in a hearing between the two parties at industrial relations tribunal Fair Work Australia.

"We take the claims seriously and have commenced internal inquiries," said a Telstra spokesperson this morning. "However, the matter is before Fair Work Australia and it would be inappropriate to provide any further comment about the claims at this time.‬ Telstra's position is that we have met and will continue to meet our good faith bargaining obligations.‬"

Cooper said it wasn't possible for just anybody to dial the union number and listen in to its teleconferences -- it was a closed group, with the phone number and security code only available to attendees. "Somehow they've managed to procure that," he said of the Telstra managers.

The union became suspicious after Telstra's management appeared to be repeating things in conversation that it could only have known about through the teleconference. The CEPU then rang the company providing the teleconference and got the list of phone numbers attending. When it dialled some of the numbers, Telstra managers responded.

Cooper was unwilling to disclose the identities of the Telstra managers involved, but he said there were about five staff involved, ranging in rank from team leader-level to several layers above -- a regional manager level or similar. It remains unclear for what time period the alleged listening-in took place -- the union has only examined call logs for 2010.

The union official laughed at the cloak and dagger style of the issue. "It is a bit Keystone comedy-ish," he said, referring to the Keystone Kops comedy films.

The union believes the Telstra managers were operating under Telstra's corporate instruction. "They are so breathtakingly arrogant that in many respects they think Telstra is higher than the law," he said.

Meanwhile, industrial action continues at the telco -- in the form of overtime bans and so on. Cooper mentioned that staff working on Telstra's EFTPOS systems and IP networks were affected.

The two parties have met broad agreement on issues relating to conditions of employment, but are still arguing over pay rises. Cooper said Telstra wanted to pay its unionised workers a rise of 2.5 percent less over the life of the enterprise agreement than it would pay non-unionised staff.

"The amount of money is not great ... it's cost them about $13 million a year over two years to fix it," he said.

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