Unions fight for telco industry

Union fighting over the telecommunications industry has stepped up following the adjournment of a representation dispute hearing before the Australian Industrial Relations Commission (AIRC).

The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) and Communications, Electrical, Electronic, Energy, Information, Postal, Plumbing and Allied Services Union (CEPU) are currently contesting the right to represent employees within this sector, and the subsequent formation of an award for the industry.

As reported in Computerworld (April 23, p8), the unions, along with the Australian Services Union (ASU) and Australian Industry Group attended two hearings before the commission on May 7 and 8 in Melbourne.

Stephen Jones, assistant secretary for CPSU communications, said: "We are quite confident that a positive decision will be made. We expect to hear within the next month."

The outcome of the decision will determine whether the CPSU's case to represent the sector, and subsequently create an award, should be heard before the commission. The CEPU also raised at the hearing that it believes it should solely represent employees within the sector.

Colin Cooper, president of the CEPU's communications division, said: "We believe we are the most appropriate union for people that work within this sector."

Jackie McDonald, industrial adviser, IT sector for the Australian Industry Group, which represents about 30 companies in this case, said: "This sector is a new industry and unions need to stake a claim early.

"A while ago union rules were amended and the CPSU now says it has a right to membership from this sector. This is what the hearing is about, whether the CPSU has a right over this sector. It is the interpretation of union rules that is the matter of contention."

The ASU is also intervening in the case as it believes the CPSU doesn't have a right of cover, she said.

The CPSU, a public sector union, was heavily impacted when Telstra was semi-privatised.

McDonald believes it is desperately trying to get back into the industry. "Over the course of the hearing the CPSU has broadened [the employees] it covers. Previously it was just saying it had a right over technical people, but has now expanded that to anyone who works with a computer or phone, including clerical and sales staff."

On another note, Jones said the union is currently involved in discussions with several employers to set up certified workplace agreements that would, when finalised, overlap a telecommunications industry award.

McDonald said she would be "worried" if these agreements covered all staff and then the commission found that the CPSU did not have a right over the sector. "Also, I would not be surprised if these discussions weren't true."

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