UPDATE: Unions warn Telstra to prepare for unprecedented industrial action

This won't be your garden variety industrial action, unions warn, with action beginning this weekend

An overwhelming majority of Telstra workers have voted in favour of industrial action over the telco’s refusal to negotiate collective agreements with its employees.

An Australian Electoral Commission ballot of 5,675 Telstra employees saw nearly 4,400 votes cast, with over 90 per cent voting to commence industrial action this weekend.

The ballot was launched by the Communications, Electrical, Electronic, Energy, Information, Postal, Plumbing and Allied Services Union of Australia (CEPU).

According to Telstra, union membership covers only 15 per cent of its employee base.

CEPU national president, Ed Husic, told ARN that the biggest sticking point for its members is the fact Telstra has walked away from talks with the unions (CEPU, CPSU and APESMA) regarding wages. In a prepared statement, Telstra said it is continuing to talk with its employees and "nothing has changed".

“Our members want a union collective agreement, not a non-union deal. For a lot of these members they have had a union-covered agreement or award from time immemorial, and Telstra should not be entitled to determine who negotiates their pay packet,” Husic said.

Telstra’s non-union wage deals are below inflation rates, he added, with CEPU members asking for at least a seven per cent wage increase in addition to the security of conditions and entitlements that come from a union collective agreement.

Telstra said over 5000 eligible employees have registered their interest in an employee collective agreement.

Husic claimed Telstra is trying to segregate its workforce, where existing enterprise agreement employees are categorised under “Part A”, while new employees and those coming off AWA’s fall into a “Part B” agreement that would be less than what is currently offered to those in “Part A”.

Telstra said it "has put forward a fair and competitive offer which protects all current terms and conditions of Enterprise Agreement employees and guarantees 12.5 per cent pay increases over three years plus up to 7.5 per cent in performance-based bonuses, with a minimum 4.5 per cent increase in the first year," in a statement, stating that its employee collective agreement exceeds national average increases of 3.9 per cent per year.

“Basically because Telstra has a huge time bomb on its hands trying to lure people off awards and agreements [made] in the past under John Howard’s Work Choices and before. They offered big pay deals with very generous conditions,” Husic said.

“Telstra knows those people will come off those AWAs as they expire and they are basically trying to put them onto a lower pay rate in the years to come. We already obtained many months ago leaked management slides that show that Telstra aims to try and save $37million off their wages bill in the coming years and this is one of the mechanisms they want to employ to do that.”

The unions say they approached Telstra on three occasions to get them back to the negotiating table, but were stonewalled at each attempt.

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