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Telco e-Bulletin 2013 # 8

  1. Telstra: transition to fixed remuneration.
  2. Testers case listed for late May.
  3. Kordia Maritime agreement up for renegotiation.
  4. Opposition IR policy: wolf in sheep's clothing?
  5. Spectrum auction: $1 billion left on table.
  6. TPG surprise bidder in spectrum auction.
  7. Pink batts worker untrained, unsupervised inquest hears.
  8. Dhaka death toll rises above 1,000.

1. Telstra: transition to fixed remuneration

Under the Telstra Enterprise Agreement concluded last year, CWU members employed under Workstream arrangements will transition to fixed remuneration from 1 July 2013.

From that date, all employees will receive a fortnightly payment which bundles up their "base" wages with the employer superannuation payment and a pro rata contribution to the 17% annual leave loading. This "fixed remuneration" figure will be the basis for redundancy entitlements but not for overtime and penalty payments.

Overtime and penalty payments will be based on the base wage figure plus the annual leave loading component only.

There have been some questions about just how this will work, especially in the case of those employees who are on defined benefit superannuation schemes.

Employees on accumulation schemes will receive the additional contributions to superannuation - required under law - outlined in the EA. Those on defined benefit schemes will receive a "notional contribution". It has not been clear how this will be shown in the new "fixed remuneration" payslips.

The CWU, together with the CSPU and APESMA, met with Telstra on 3 May 2013 regarding this transition.

Telstra has advised the unions that relevant information for managers has now been placed on a dedicated people manager site and that information for employees is scheduled to be posted on the Telstra intranet in the week beginning 20 May subject to successful testing of the statements in the system. A message will be placed in People Express at the same time.

It is planned that Transition to Fixed Remuneration statements will be available in People Express in the week beginning 27 May 2013.

Members who are in any doubt as to how the new arrangements will affect them should contact their state branch.

2. Testers case listed for late May

The Magistrates court will soon start to consider the CWU's claim that Telstra is underpaying its tester employees, in breach of the current Enterprise Agreement (EA).

A Directions Hearing has been set down for 29 May. This will establish a timetable for the hearing of the matter. The CWU is arguing that Telstra has underpaid a group of testers who transferred from individual contracts (AWAs) to the Workstream category of the current Enterprise Agreement.

In the course of the transfer, the employees found themselves being paid at Band 5 level even though the EA Job Descriptions place them at Band 7.

This is a significant case which clearly has implications for all employees changing from Job Family to Workstream arrangements. Members will be kept informed of developments.

3. Kordia Maritime agreement up for renegotiation

Negotiations have commenced for a new agreement with Kordia's maritime section.

The CWU met with Kordia in Canberra on Tuesday 7 May to discuss a range of matters including pay rises nd the duration of the agreement. The CWU has indicated that given current political and economic uncertainties a relatively long agreement - up to four years - would benefit both employees and the company.

As the current EA expires at the end of June, the CWU is seeking to progress negotiations promptly with a view to achieving back-to-back agreements.

Kordia members should contact their state branch for further details and for input into these discussions.

4. Opposition IR policy: wolf in sheep's clothing?

The Coalition has at last released its Industrial Relations policy - and it has not pleased anyone.

Pro-business interests are already calling for stronger measures, describing the policy as "timid". But unions have warned that the Coalition is set to make big changes to the workplace landscape, both now and in the future.

The Coalition has essentially decided on a two -stage approach with a number of measures designed to weaken the labour movement's ability to organise being introduced in its first term of government (if it wins the election)and wider changes to follow after the 2016 election.

In its first term the Coalition would:
1. make it harder for unions to enter workplaces to consult with members and potential members
2. bring back the much-hated building industry police force, the Australian Building and Construction Commission
3. encourage the wider use of Individual Flexibility Agreements (IFAs)
4. restrict the ability of union members to take protected industrial action in pursuit of enterprise agreement.

In relation to industrial action, the Coalition would require the Fair Work Commission (FWC) to agree that claims made during bargaining were "fair and reasonable" before industrial action could be undertaken. And it would also outlaw industrial action before bargaining had commenced.

These steps might look reasonable to many people - as they are designed to. But they have a sting in the tail. How, for instance, will the FWC determine what is "reasonable" - and how long might employees have to wait for an answer to that question?

And how will union members bring a reluctant employer to the bargaining table if they can't use industrial action to do so?

If they can persuade a majority of employees in a company to join them in bargaining they will be able to force the company's hand, but if not they will be powerless.

Various commentators have suggested that these measures are politically cautious and cleverly designed to hurt unions but not employees. But they are far from innocuous.

They are designed to make unions and their members less effective and less able to fight against the more systematic attacks on working conditions that the Coalition has in mind for what it hopes will be its second term.

The second stage of the plan involves getting the Productivity Commission to examine the Fair Work Act to see whether it actually helps productivity. There are no prizes for seeing what the risks are here.

Penalty rates - the centre piece of business' campaign in recent years - will be targeted. Unfair dismissal laws will also be in the Coalition's sights.

The ACTU has called on the Coalition to spell out just what it will ask the Productivity Commission to do, knowing that what answers you get from such inquiries depends on the questions you ask.

But it unlikely that the IR wolf that now is at least partly hidden in sheep's clothing will fully emerge until after the next federal election - should the Coalition win.

5. Spectrum auction: $1 billion left on table

The federal government's "digital dividend" auction has concluded with about $1 billion worth of 4G spectrum left on the table.

While all the spectrum in the high band 2.5GHz range was sold, one third of the 700MHz blocks went unsold, with Telstra and Optus the only purchasers in this band.

It has been clear for some time that the government would face an uphill battle maximising its returns from the spectrum sale. Vodafone's decision last year not to participate in the auction meant that no real bidding war was likely. The Government's response -to set reserve prices for the spectrum - also ran the risk of dampening bidders' enthusiasm, especially for the 700MHz band where the price was set significantly above international benchmarks.

As commentators have observed, however, the auction results may tell us as much about current industry priorities as about the actual depth of carrier pockets. Both Optus and Telstra bought some 700MHz spectrum - more suitable for rural and regional areas - as they seek to extend their current 4G coverage.

But the sale of the full allocation of 2.5GHz spectrum -suitable for higher density situations and higher bandwidth services - suggests that it is in urban Australia that carriers' main interests lie.

With mobile broadband increasingly central to Australians' telecommunications behaviour, there is a danger of an emerging "digital divide" in the availability of such services.

Meanwhile, Vodafone's decision not to bid at all raises obvious questions about the long-term viability of the company's Australian operations and hence about other aspects of the structure of the domestic mobile market.

Vodafone's well publicised service difficulties of recent times have highlighted the consequences of the carrier's underinvestment in network capacity. But more generally it must be asked whether the Australian market can sustain three separate mobile networks in the longer term future.

As technology cycles become shorter and capital requirements greater, only those with very deep pockets are likely to survive. Telstra and, in all probability Optus will continue to ride the tiger but beyond that...

6. TPG surprise bidder in spectrum auction

While established mobile network operator, Vodafone, was absent from the spectrum bidding, relative newcomer TPG was a surprise bidder.

TPG successfully bid for two 10MHz blocks of the high band 2.5GHz spectrum, triggering industry speculation about its ambitions in the wireless space.

TPG owns no mobile infrastructure and currently resells Optus mobile services. It has however recently acquired significant backhaul capacity through the purchase of Pipe Networks. The company has indicated that its spectrum purchase may play a role in the development of its own wireless broadband offerings.

It is highly unlikely that TPG plans to develop its own mobile network. But it may well have success as a niche operator offering high speed fixed wireless services, especially in areas not targeted by the majors.

With some 15% of Australian premises now wireless-only opportunities clearly exist for a company that can offer well-structured "bespoke" wireless access services, especially to small and medium businesses. It is here that TPG can be expected to deploy its new assets.

7. Pink batts worker untrained, inquest hears

A man electrocuted while working on the federal government's "pink batts" insulation scheme was untrained and unsupervised an inquest has been told.

Matt Fuller, 26, died on October 14, 2009, after he pierced a live electrical cable with a metal staple while working inside a roof. At the time he had been working for QHI Installations Pty Ltd for only two weeks. His girlfriend, Monique Pridmore, who was working with him was badly burned in the incident.

Queensland Coroner Michael Barnes, who is inquiring into the deaths of three young men who died during the rollout of the scheme, heard that QHI had not properly supervised their young workers, who had received no training and had no prior experience.

Workplace Health and Safety Queensland principal inspector investigations Douglas Innes said QHI had been warned twice in the week before Fuller died about its workers having electrical problems in roofs.

But the inquiry also heard that those running the Commonwealth scheme had placed too much faith in state and territory health and safety laws and that training requirements had been "relaxed" in the rush to get the scheme in place.

"Nothing that the coroner or any of us can do will bring Matt back," said Fuller's father at the end of the inquest, " but we're hoping that we can find ways to ensure that no-one else goes through what we've been through."

QHI was fined $100,000 and its executive officer was fined $10,000 in relation to Fuller's death.

8. Dhaka death toll rises above 1,000

As anticipated, the final death toll from the collapse of a factory building in Bangladesh now stands at over a thousand, making it one of the worst industrial accidents in history.

The eight-story Rana Plaza building in Savar near Dhaka had housed five garment factories with over 3,000 workers present at the time of the accident. The factory owners had ordered workers into the building, despite their objections due to serious, visible cracks noted in the building on 23 April, the day before the collapse.

Thousands of workers were injured in the disaster, many critically, and hundreds will suffer permanent disability.

There has been a series of deadly accidents in Bangladesh's garment industry, which accounts for 80% of the country's exports and employs around 4 million people.

There was a fire in November 2012 that killed 114 people, while a fire has killed eight people at another garment factory in Dhaka since the Rana Plaza disaster.

Those killed in the recent fire were not workers but managers and officials, including at least one political operative, prompting questions as to the close relationship between the Bangladesh political elite and the poorly regulated and exploitative industry.

May Day in Dhaka saw Bangladesh's garment workers, the majority of whom are women, calling for a radical overhaul of health and safety standards in the industry as well as strong penalties for negligent factory owners.

And internationally the labour movement has joined with a series of activist groups to demand that all mulitnational corporations sourcing garments from Bangladesh sign up to the legally binding Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh immediately.

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