Last issue Solidarity reported that Telstra workers in the Wholesale and Service Advantage area had voted down a non-union collective agreement. It was a serious blow to Telstra’s divide and rule strategy of pushing such agreements onto poorly-unionised sections of the company.

Rather than bring the unions back into negotiations though, the company is now pushing another non-union agreement.

The new offer has been presented as a concession to staff demands and as the best possible offer during the economic downturn.

Unions have rightly rejected this as nonsense and asked why Telstra workers should pay for the crisis (the latest agreements 4.5 per cent, 4 per cent and 4 per cent wage increases over three years are well below inflation, which is now at 5 per cent).

Sol Trujillo’s annual salary doubled this year and sits somewhere beyond $20 million. Sol himself has no plans to take a wage cut.

The agreement also would also abolish union right of entry and any obligation to negotiate with the union on future agreements–both further efforts to drive the unions out.

Staff have even been asked to register their interest in the agreement to get a vote. This is despite Telstra’s legal obligation to provide one to all workers on the EBA or expired AWAs. The tactic is designed so Telstra management can determine whether to proceed with a vote or not, instead of facing the possibility of another embarrassing defeat.

The no vote and the your rights at Telstra campaign have reinvigorated interest in the unions and given large groups of workers confidence that when they stand together, they can win.

The unions running the campaign–the CPSU, CEPU and APESMA–need to build on this confidence. Unions are currently preparing for a ballot on industrial action for all members.

A successful ballot would be one of the first since the introduction of WorkChoices and a serious blow to Telstra’s strategy of de-unionisation and wage cuts.

Industrial action is not just the only strategy likely to win Telstra’s workers the wages and conditions they deserve, but would also prove inspiring for workers across the country who will likely face battles to maintain their wages and conditions during the unfolding economic crisis.

By Amy Thomas

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