IBM GSA cuts begin as union in talks with IBM Australia

IT professionals will feel the brunt of IBM Australia's redeployment program, which could see hundreds cut from its outsourcing division, union officials warn.

Between 200 and 400 staff at IBM Global Services Australia have been told they will be made redundant if not redeployed internally by June 18, according to reports made to the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU).

Similarly, a spokesperson for Australian Services Union (ASU) Sally McManus said to the union's knowledge IT staff at IBM GSA will be the most impacted. The ASU received a letter from IBM Australia informing them of the redeployment program currently under way at IBM GSA over the next four weeks.

"It says there will be potential retrenchments from its various business sections," McManus said. "The number of employees that will be made redundant is not yet known. [However] IT professionals and admin support staff personnel will be the most impacted."

Under the program the onus is on employees to apply for jobs on IBM's intranet, McManus said. The ASU understands that those employees, unsuccessful in this redeploying endeavour, will be made redundant in four weeks.

A source close to the situation said a number of permanent, and possibly some contractors, staff were shown the door last week from the IBM GSA operations for Optus in the Sydney suburb of North Sydney.

"Some are already out and about after having been told last week," he said.

However, CPSU assistant secretary Stephen Jones said the union was not satisfied with the information it has received from the company.

IBM Australia held discussions with CPSU last week. The company and the union will be holding further discussions this week to discuss the redeployment program.

"[The union's concerns are] the number [of people] involved and the level of benefits available if they are made redundant," Jones said. "This is something that caused a dispute over a similar matter [of layoffs] last year. I hope we don't go down the same path."

Last year IBM GSA staff facing redundancy held a protest outside the company's Sydney city headquarters in Sussex St and CPSU members took two 48-hour strike actions at IBM GSA's office in the northern Sydney suburb of St Leonards. The industrial action was a reaction to the announcement that 64 staff member positions would be made redundant or redeployed in a shake-up of the IT section at its St Leonards site.

The impending cuts follows news of at least 747 workers shed from four plants in the US in the past week in a move to pare expenses. According to media reports, these cuts in the US are the first in what is believed to be a worldwide cull.

An IBM Australia spokesperson confirmed the company has held discussions with the union, but said she could not speculate on redundancies, nor reveal the number of workers impacted by the redeployment program. She also declined to specify which parts of the business the redeployments would occur in, which departments the staff will be redeployed to or whether there would be job cuts down the track.

"Obviously it's got to be said it's a tough economic climate," she said. "IBM Australia has a strong presence in the marketplace.

"We are talking to some people about redeployment options to other parts of our business where there is continuing growth," she said, adding where there are tangible growth areas in the market there will be new job opportunities.

According to the spokesperson, the company is changing its skill mix to reflect projections on the Asian market from various IT analysts. The program may save the jobs of local staff and position the company to leverage off growth areas in Asian market.

"What is happening here in Australia is not the same program as has been reported in the US," she said, calling the redeployment program a "normal part of business operations".

"IBM is constantly reassessing its skills mix to meet the demands of the marketplace," she said.

Some of the projections by analysts she cited include a $US75 billion projection for IT services and products and 120 million Internet users in Asia by close of 2002.

Jones said that under the program CPSU members are using an internal network environment to be matched to jobs.

"A mainly IT system generated redeployment process is under way," Jones said. Under the program, staff enter their personal details and skills on a network that matches these against other positions in the network, he said.

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