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Issue #1584      March 6, 2013

Penalise Sensis for betraying Australian workers

Hundreds of unionists rallied late in February to kick off a national effort to force Telstra to back down on moves to send hundreds of jobs from its Sensis division offshore, which the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union (AMWU) has condemned as a disgrace.

The AMWU has vowed a forceful public campaign to fight the offshoring and the wider Sensis cuts of 689 full-time positions. National secretary Paul Bastian said parent company Telstra made $1.6 billion last half year and no profitable company that slashed its local workforce to outsource to low-wage nations should be permitted to escape without sanction.

He said all government subsidies and funding should be withdrawn from Sensis for its unAustralian behaviour, which came after it made a $685 million profit last year.

Sensis intends to cut the jobs due to falling revenue from its White Pages and Yellow Pages divisions as the company moves closer to fully online services, but a big number of the jobs slated for transfer to the Philippines and India are of workers with production skills across both print and digital platforms.

“This is a company that’s not doing it tough. How’s it doing it tough with over $600 million in profit?” asked Mr Bastian.

“Our view is that if you’re an Australian company or a company here in Australia employing Australian citizens, and you want to offshore work, then you should get nothing from the public purse.

“What I want everyone to see is an unAustralian company, a company that’s just laid off 700 workers, a company that made $1.6 billion profits and a company that’s looking at transferring nearly 400 of those jobs to the Philippines.

“It’s a disgrace and they shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it.”

At a rally outside Telstra headquarters in Melbourne, members and delegates signalled their intention to overturn any move to offshore, which management said had not been finalised.

The rally of 450 Sensis workers and supporters braved rain to hear demands from delegates Chris Breen, Marty Raspin and Zoe Erbacher for the company to explain why it was sacking skilled content makers when it claimed its future was digital.

They were angry that their skilled, stable jobs were to be sent offshore with the intent of exploiting low-paid labour there for profit.

AMWU National Print Division secretary Lorraine Cassin said Sensis would not be permitted to offshore the jobs of workers who built its business.

Victorian state secretary Steve Dargavel questioned how governments could support Telstra when its management betrayed their own Australian customers and digital-smart workers.

“I understand people are feeling shock but when you get over that there’s the need for us to get angry and take action. We know these jobs can be saved, it’s not inevitable,” Mr Breen said.

“It’s not only about our jobs, it’s about future jobs for everyone’s kids.”

He noted the last CEO, Bruce Akehurst, departed Sensis last year with a $5.3 million package, including his $2.9 million salary, with new CEO John Allen likely to be on a similarly lucrative package.

Sensis workers voted to walk off the job for the rest of the day and demanded Mr Allen meet them and AMWU officials to reveal the figures behind the offshoring decision, rather than blaming it on information technology costs.

Workers placed 390 yellow pages paper planes in the Testra HQ foyer, each representing a job sent overseas.

The Sensis decision came on the same day printing firm Geon, with 800 jobs nationally, went into voluntary liquidation while eco-friendly Vega Press was placed in administration. It employs 70 people.

Ms Cassin said both companies hoped to continue operating but the top priority was saving jobs and ensuring members received their pay and entitlements.

Geon, like Sensis, had not consulted the AMWU and Ms Cassin said the AMWU would hold them accountable.

About 221 Sensis sales jobs are scheduled to go across all state capitals and many regional centres, with the biggest remaining cuts in Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney from March to November.

Sensis documents leaked to the media said 390 skilled roles would be hit by the “potential introduction” of overseas “partners” to gradually carry out editing, production, artwork and contact centre work for Yellow Pages and White Pages.   

Next article – The Recall Records dispute in WA escalates

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