Telstra workers should be given the choice to have their unions negotiate a collective agreement rather than have the company’s managers push a non-negotiable job contract upon them.

Unions will today apply to the industrial umpire, the Australian Industrial Relations Commission, to help end the dispute with the company by conducting a ballot of Telstra employees about whether they want a union-negotiated collective agreement or a non-union deal as the company is insisting.

ACTU Secretary Jeff Lawrence said Telstra management was using the damaging remnants of the Howard Government’s Work Choices IR laws to deny workers the right to be represented by unions.

After breaking off discussions with unions in July, Telstra management has this week begun to roll out a non-negotiable pay offer that — in a divide and conquer strategy — is targeted at sections of the 32,000-strong Telstra workforce that have the least collective strength.

“Many Telstra staff – both union members and non-members – rightly believe they can get a better pay and conditions from genuine collective bargaining,” Mr Lawrence said.

“They mistrust the company after it was revealed Telstra managers have a plan to slash the company’s wages bill by sidelining union involvement in negotiations over pay and conditions.

“The non-negotiable pay offer made by Telstra to some staff this week fails to keep pace with a forecast inflation rate of 5% this year, and would cut key conditions such as overtime and redundancy entitlements for new employees.

“Telstra employees want to have their wages and conditions to be negotiated by unions but many are too scared to speak up for fear of their jobs. We are seeking the help of the Industrial Relations Commission to hold a secret ballot and give Telstra workers a say,” said Mr Lawrence.

The Communications, Electrical and Plumbing Union (CEPU), Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU), the Association of Professional Engineers, Scientists and Managers Australia (APESMA) and the ACTU are calling on Telstra management to re-enter negotiations over a new collective agreement and transition arrangements for staff on AWAs.