Thousands of Telstra workers are expected to go on strike in Melbourne today after reaching yet another stalemate in salary negotiations, according to the Communications, Electrical and Plumbing Union (CEPU).
Members of the union, which represents 10,000 Telstra workers nationally, plan to meet at the city's Trades Hall at 11am today to discuss Telstra's latest "final" offer.
A Telstra spokesman said Telstra's final pay offer was made on 17 March and the company remains focussed on reaching an agreement.
"Telstra has put its best pay offer on the table - an 8 per cent pay increase over two years plus annual performance bonuses of up to 2.5 per cent per year," the spokesman said.
"We have recently paid eligible employees a 2 per cent pay increase and the 2.5 per cent cash bonus ... We believe that the final offer put forward by Telstra is fair and reasonable."
But the union is concerned about an alleged difference in pay between workers covered by Telstra's enterprise agreement and non-union staff.
Those covered by the enterprise agreement get 2.5 percent less than non-union staff in similar roles, the union said.
Union members benefit from arbitration arrangements that are not available to workers in non-union agreements with Telstra.
However, CEPU believes that its members still deserve equal pay to non-union members in the same jobs.
"We've been attempting to negotiate our way through this, but talks have broken down and Telstra has told us it's their final offer," CEPU Assistant National Secretary Bert Blackburne told iTnews.
Highlighting rumours that Telstra would cut 900 staff from its operations team over the next year, Blackburne anticipates tougher working conditions for staff in the months to come.
"You can't keep cutting staff when service levels are dropping," he told iTnews, citing the Telecommunication Industry Ombudsman's (TIO) report that recorded 58,597 complaints from Telstra customers in late 2009.
"Those who stay will be working even harder to maintain productivity, and we think that they [union members] deserve pay parity," he said.
After the 11am meeting, the workers plan to march to Telstra's city-centre T[Life] store located on the corner of Bourke and Swanston streets.
Blackburne expects "quite a few thousand" Victorian Telstra workers to participate in the strike, including operational staff responsible for installation and maintenance of customer equipment.
"I think it [the strike] will have a pretty big impact not just because of the numbers, but because of the types of jobs that they [workers] usually do," he told iTnews.
Telstra's spokesman said the telco had faced industrial action since Christmas 2008 and is prepared to maintain its levels of customer service during the strike.
He expects no more than 50 employees to be participating in today's strike.
"Since 2008, industrial action has had almost zero customer impact and the vast majority of employees continue to remain on the job serving our customers," he said.
"We have continued to put our customers first. We are prepared and we will do all we need to do to maintain levels of service to our customers."
UPDATE 3.20pm Telstra says only 200 staff participated in today's strike. The CEPU estimates attendance to be closer to 450.