Union slams IBM GSA plan to cut data management staff

The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) claims public safety could be put at great risk if IBM GSA goes ahead with plans to cut 64 staff from data management sites in Sydney and Melbourne.

In an attempt to stop IBM GSA from axing the 64 shift workers employed at the enterprise services department, CPSU members on IBM GSA staff started 48-hour strike action at 7pm last night outside the IBM office in the northern Sydney suburb of St Leonards. The department is responsible for monitoring and maintaining the ‘000' Emergency Service, including systems that allow telephone operators to identify the street address of emergency service callers.

IBM spokesperson Jessica Williamson said 64 IBM GSA staff from the data management sites in both Sydney and Melbourne were informed of the "changes" last week and have not been "sacked". She said they have been given eight weeks to decide which of three options to take that the company is offering: relocating to a similar role within the company; redeployment to another position with the company, or take a redundancy package.

However, the upset employees told Computerworld at today's protest, that IBM GSA has "lied and they have been given only two weeks to pack their bags".

The angry staff said they were handed their envelopes on March 29, and have to choose one of the three options by April 12. IBM GSA officials had not responded to request for comment on these claims by deadline.

According to CPSU officials: "The CPSU received a letter from IBM GSA management which conceded that the 'computer and other systems vital for public welfare as well as commercial and industrial operations' are at risk if the data management site in Sydney is left without staff, but the company intends to proceed with the cuts".

CPSU communications assistant secretary Stephen Jones said: "We can't understand how the government could allow this multinational to push ahead with the job cuts when the risk to public safety is so great. "We are proud of our 000 Emergency Service and are concerned that when people dial that number they should be able to get an ambulance quickly," Jones said.

Williamson said there will be no impact on IBM GSA's customer services as it is just the way IBM is restructuring.

"There will be no effect on emergency service systems - we continue with business as usual," she said.

Williamson added that the two sites will continue to be manned, and there will continue to be staff on location monitoring and maintaining the services.

However, Jones says IBM GSA proposes to run, monitor and maintain the systems from Clayton in Victoria, which will leave the Sydney site unstaffed. "The staff are currently maintaining from Clayton and Sydney. They are going to axe the staff doing maintenance from Sydney and do it from Melbourne," Jones said.

Jones said IBM GSA would expose clients to a huge risk if there were no staff on site to do routine checks or respond to emergency situations.

"Our members are telling us, if the lay offs go ahead and the sites are unstaffed, then there will be systems problems and possibly outages," Jones said. "Our members are telling us that they regularly have to do manual interventions and maintenance operations which require people to be on site - and you can't do that from Melbourne," Jones said.

At a press conference held at the protest today, Jones said IBM GSA management had said it was unsafe for staff to be off work for two days - for the protest, so: "What will happen when the doors are closed and there will be no staff here for good?," he asked.

Jones said he believes that, as well as having an effect on the Emergency Services, if the sites are unstaffed, the lay offs could also have an impact on IBM GSA's customers including Telstra, Victoria Police, Westpac, NRMA and other financial systems like Eftpos which run through the sites.

Jones said the ‘000' Emergency Service run by Telstra IT systems is supported by IBM GSA and run from the St Leonards site, as is all Telstra customer data.

Jones said the CPSU has been in negotiations with IBM, most recently holding a telephone conference with IBM GSA management yesterday, which did not resolve the differences.

Jones has not ruled out legal action.

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