Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Australia - Telstra spied on private meetings of its trades unions

[] TELSTRA could face a federal police investigation after being accused of spying on private union meetings in an attempt to gain advantage in an industrial war over better pay conditions for its employees.

The Communications Electrical and Plumbing Union (CEPU) has alleged that Telstra management secretly listened in on member-only telephone conference calls where union delegates discussed plans for industrial action against the telco giant, The Australian reports.

It is alleged that at least five separate Telstra managers - in six incidents between February and March - listened to the calls to gain advanced knowledge of planned industrial strikes.

This knowledge was then used to ramp up contingency plans in a bid to mitigate the impact of any work outages carried out by the union.

The CEPU has submitted an affidavit outlining the allegations - which it believes amount to a breach of the Telecommunications Interceptions Act - to the Australian Federal Police.

The AFP yesterday declined to comment on the case.

The Telecommunications Interceptions Act prohibits a person from intercepting communication passing over any telecommunications system. Contraventions of the act can carry a punishment by imprisonment for up to two years.

"This security is very important to the union, particularly during periods of industrial action, so as not to alert management of our members exercising their workplace right to take legal and protected industrial action, especially smaller groups and individuals that may be targeted for retribution by management," CEPU official John O'Donnell wrote in a draft affidavit obtained by The Australian.

A Telstra spokesman said the telco was taking the claims seriously and had commenced internal inquiries.

The allegations will be aired today at a hearing before Fair Work Australia, where the CEPU will claim Telstra's actions have breached its pledge to bargain with the union in "good faith" over an 18-month-long pay dispute.

"They have been able to obtain undue advantage in preparing a defensive response to any industrial action that we have planned.

"This is not good faith bargaining and Telstra should acknowledge this breach of trust and publicly pledge they will not engage in this action again," CEPU national president Ed Husic told The Australian.

Union insiders said Telstra's alleged spying actions allowed the telco giant to counter major incidences of industrial action that would have affected the supply of key communication services to some of Telstra's large corporate customers such as BHP and Xstrata.

"Two days after a union conference call to discuss some strikes that would have affected the delivery of services to BHP, Telstra moved 80 contractors in to do the work of our union members who were going to strike in those areas. That was the tip-off for us," a union insider told The Australian.

The CEPU says it was able to expose Telstra's alleged snooping by cross-referencing telephone numbers used to dial into the conference calls against telephone numbers provided by its union members. The CEPU found that up to six phone numbers belonged to high-level Telstra managers who were not union members.

Telstra 'spied' on workers' pay war talks

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