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News News Unions pressure Telstra to resume negotiations
THOUSANDS of Telstra workers are set to resume rolling strikes and bans on working overtime this weekend after a lull in industrial action during the Christmas-new year break.

But Telstra shows no sign of backing down from its refusal to re-enter talks with unions, almost six months after breaking off enterprise bargaining negotiations covering about 13,000 workers.

Unions say rolling 24- and 48-hour strikes and refusals to work overtime before Christmas had caused a backlog of Telstra customers requiring services and caused delays to projects under its five-year transformation plan.

The divisional president of the Communications, Electrical and Plumbing Union, Len Cooper, said members had not had a response from Telstra management about whether they were prepared to return to the negotiating table, but "we noticed their rhetoric has changed in the media".

"There has been a big impact [from the industrial action] and we know Telstra is very concerned about how to handle it. Telstra is really trying to squeeze the last drop of blood out of Work Choices. What they are going to have to do is to agree to come back. We are not … going to go back on a vague promise … of good-faith bargaining."

The strike action before Christmas had led to nearly eight days of backlogs in dealing with faults and problems critical to EFTPOS and ATM banking networks, Mr Cooper said.

In addition, the Herald has learnt that some of Telstra's pre-paid wireless broadband customers were unable to access the internet for at least four days last week.

Unions will meet today to discuss the timetable for action, which is likely to resume this weekend. It will include over-time bans and refusing to be called on at weekends.

Mr Cooper said the action was designed to show Telstra management how critical the workers were and bring the company back to the negotiating table. It had already had a "huge impact" on Telstra's transformation plan.

More than 7000 Telstra workers endorsed industrial action early last month. The Australian Council of Trade Unions has been spearheading the campaign, which has included sending members to Telstra's annual meeting more than a month ago to pressure the company over its workplace policies.

About 13,000 Telstra employees are covered by an enterprise agreement that expired in September, and unions estimate the rest of its 32,000 workforce are on Australian Workplace Agreements.

The unions must notify Telstra of their intentions 72 hours before any action. Telstra declined to comment.

by Matt O'Sullivan, Sydney Morning Herald

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