In supporting the Long Service Leave (Commonwealth Employees) Amendment Bill 2006 this morning, I want to take some time to make some comments about the workforce in Telstra. I think all of us in this place know that there are few groups of workers in this country who are more familiar with significant structural change and public scrutiny than those workers in Telstra. We have had seemingly endless debates over the last 12 years about what was going to happen to Telstra in the future . We have debates here, we have had them through the media and we have had large-scale community discussions about the future of Telstra. Throughout that whole process, often the voices of the workers were somehow silenced. Naturally, the very strong work of the two trade unions-my own union, the CPSU, and the CEPU-came forward consistently with arguments about why Telstra should remain strongly in public hands, the position which Labor continues to promote. But, by nature of being employees of the company, individual workers were often not able to take part in these discussions and debates, although their workplaces and their own working futures were often part of the debate. I think that many Telstra workers have felt quite damaged because consistently throughout the process the working practices, the efficiency and the identity of Telstra were part of the debates.
This piece of legislation actually makes some effort towards providing some security into the future for some of the workers who are currently working in Telstra and what is now going to be their privatised process. That has happened to other chunks of Telstra over the last few years as various business enterprises have been pulled out, sold and moved around. In the past, certainly I as a CPSU official have been part of working with some of the workers as they were making decisions about what was best for them. Throughout that, the Telstra management has often provided great support for individual workers and groups of workers about protection of choices, what they could do, retraining options and so on.
But somehow, in these last few debates, as we have moved grindingly towards the decision on full privatisation, there has been so much focus on productivity and future efficiencies that somehow the workers have become the bargaining chips in this process. When we had the significant announcement of the major job losses which were going to be the first step to the new future of Telstra, that hit home immediately to workers, their families and also their public identity. So I think it is important when talking about this legislation, which is about providing some security around long service leave, that we make some acknowledgment of those workers and their families and also the way they have been almost part of the political fallout of the recent decisions.
It is also particularly important that we mention long service leave because no other entitlement has such a personal link to workers' longstanding loyalty and service as does the condition which we know as long service leave. Many other countries do not have such a condition. It is something of which we are very proud. When I used to work in the Public Service and also with members in Telstra and, prior to that, Telecom, there was great celebration around giving out long service awards to workers who had been with the company, their employer, for extensive periods of time.
We are going to lose that kind of cultural experience in our current economy. I do not think there will be workers in any organisation, let alone whatever the new privatised telecommunications entity is going to be, who will be celebrating long service, because the nature of the dynamic of the economy is that people come in and out of work. They are on individual contracts. There is not that personal relationship with work, that expectation that someone comes on, learns the skills and enhances their skills over long years of work in the community and that their working life is then celebrated with that employer as well as in their family arrangements and in the wider community which they serve.
So, for me, the whole concept of long service leave is one that is so important and that we should acknowledge. Telstra over many years has been able to give lists of employees who have marked 10, 20, 30 and in some cases 40 years of service to their employer. That is something which I think we as a community should celebrate strongly. In many ways, that is why I was so keen to make some comment today about where, in our debates about the economic realities and the economic futures, we remember the individual workers.
I have said before that there is something about the workers in Telstra, in Telecom before that and even before that in the PMG, across regional Australia, such that there was an immediacy of relationship between those workers who were part of that organisation and their local communities. In Queensland, how many places could you have visited in the past and seen the proud signage of Telstra and also the workers for that organisation, who were part of the community not just through the immediate work they did in providing telecommunications services but so often through various community activities? The workers in Telstra were part of local service groups, emergency fire services, school communities-I think in future times we will be able to look back with pride on the impact of Telstra employment in local areas across our country as part of a very strong history. I think that is lost.
Only recently, we have seen the firstround casualties of the new privatised environment, with the call centres in Queensland being closed overnight. We have talked here about what that is going to do to those families. No-one on any side of this chamber is pleased about that result, but the impact is that those jobs are lost and that money is lost to the community. Despite protestations that there are other work opportunities around, those workers are not facing those immediately at this stage. Through previous reorganisations, sell-offs and restructurings in Telstra, many workers who received their training and started their working lives under the Telstra umbrella have moved on. Those workers continue to talk to each other, even if their employment status has changed, and they know that the contract arrangements in whatever new places they have gone to do not equate to the conditions, the security and the team spirit which they used to know in the public sector environment in Telstra. It is not a question of productivity, and I say again: there is absolutely no evidence to prove that people in a private enterprise arrangement are any better workers or any more productive or provide any greater service than those in a public sector environment. People like to make those statements and talk about the security of the process. Those workers who feel secure and valued, who know that there is a personal relationship between them and their employer and feel that they will be able to develop their skills to provide an effective future for them and their families, provide the best possible service and are the ones who give the most back, not just to their employer but to the wider community.
In terms of where we go now, we have this legislation looking after these conditions for a short term-a period of three years. It is good to have it there, but it would be much better if we had those conditions protected into the future. But we have three years and, at least in terms of planning and people being able to look at their futures and seeing that they are going to be able to accrue their long service conditions, it is a step towards saying to the employees: 'We understand the pain and the insecurity, but we still expect you to continue to do the best possible job you can do for the company so that we will be able to sell you off and get the best profit. In terms of what we do it would be great.' We have already heard from Senator Sherry and Senator Murray about the deep uncertainty around the workers and their superannuation entitlements-another condition of service which shows a particular relationship between workers and their employer. It is the linkage between valuing the worker, accepting their skills and giving them effective repayment for what they do. In many ways long service leave and superannuation are part of a special bond between the employer and the employee, because it is something that can be negotiated and actually quantified to say, 'These are monetary repayments for the work that you do and show that we accept that you are continuing to provide service.' It is not just an hourly rate; it is not just coming in for a certain number of hours or days. It is actually saying, 'We accept you and the value you are to the whole company.'
It would be very valuable if we could give a commitment to the workers in Telstra that their superannuation entitlements were going to be protected as well. We heard early promises, which were widely publicised to the workers involved, when there was that process of keeping people going. As we know, productivity aspects within Telstra have been a strong talking point about whether in fact the sale was going to be effective or not. So the expectation was that the workers would be doing super efforts to ensure that the commitments made to the community about setting up their telecommunications services were fulfilled. We have had that quite interesting comment about what equals equity and effectiveness of service. I have never been quite sure whether we are going to reach 'adequacy', 'efficiency' or whatever. Nonetheless, in terms of the workers of Telstra, they all want to provide the best possible telecommunications for everybody across this country. Their workload and work experiences have become public debate. It is one of the sad aspects that, while we have been looking at the future of Telstra, we have not often said how good and how valuable so many of the services have been. We tend to focus on where there have been inadequacies, problems and delays. No-one is more sensitive or more aware of those issues than the workers themselves. When things are brought to their attention, when delays or crises are identified, they are the ones who work most zealously to meet the requirements and to ensure that not just the work is done but the very strong reputation for them as workers and also for the organisation is protected. I wish that the loyalty and respect the workers often show to the employer was given back to the workers in this case. As we move forward, again I would like to pay credit to those workers who have provided such great services such loyalty and great spirit to the organisation over many years in this country. I also want to pay credit to my coworkers in the Community and Public Sector Union and also the CEPU who have worked this in struggle alongside their members. Many of them had been Telstra employees, so they knew personally what was going on with the families and with the workers themselves. Whilst the vote has gone through and we believe the prospectus is out there and there have been information sessions about this next round, the T3 sale, when we continue that process I think we should value the work that is done for Telstra, value the employees and try where we can in this place to ensure that their conditions, their security and their future continue to be part of the ongoing debate.
18 October, 2006