No Action on Worker Suicides at Telstra

‘Tonight (18 June 2007) on Four Corners, in an economy demanding constant change in the workplace, the anger and distress of those who have experienced the cultural shift taking place in one of our biggest and most powerful companies — Telstra.’ — Tough Calls telecast on the ABCs 4 Corners program, 18 June 2007.

I missed the 4 Corners program last night on Telstra but have read the transcript (click here).

Also I had a look at the online forum the ABC ran after the show. They had so many comments that when the moderator shut down the discussion 3 hours after the show had gone to air there were many more messages to be moderated. Over 500 people participated in the discussion up to its close by the ABC moderator.

More people participated than any other 4 corners (or ABC current affairs) show this year (2007).

The ABC is still posting messages that were sent last night after the show. The only 4 corners programs to come close in response were on “The Last Act” and the “Exclusive Brethren“. One week later on 25 June 2007 the total number of messages posted on the online forum were 1770 with 796 participants. A blog set up by the Community and Public Sector Union also had a lot of input from public sector workers.

One message coming through the ABC forum is that Telstra call centre workers generally find the work stressful, depressing and often pointless.

There were a lot of messages about the union and AWA’s. An Academic John Buchanan from Sydney University’s workplace research centre introduced himself online and fielded a lot of questions/discussion on the forum. However his perspective was academic rather than doing something about it.

None of the union officials participated in the online forum but a number of rank and file unionists did.

Unions are so weak they have failed to mobilise Telstra workers to prevent the suicides reported in the 4 Corners program and possible future suicides.

For example the CPSU has set up a blog about the show at and asked for comments. There were 47 comments and counting about how bad things are in Telstra but on the blog all the CPSU has to say is this:

“CPSU – Your Rights at Work campaign for fairer IR laws

2007 is an election year. For many thousands of CPSU members who’ve been campaigning for fairer workplace laws, it’s “showtime.” Over the coming months we’ll be on the phones, on the street and on the airways – finding out what people think and urging all Australians to vote for decent rights at work. It’s called democracy. It’s a union thing.”

As one unionist said:

‘Stephen Jones [CPSU Secretary] (should be asked) what they (the CPSU) mean by campaigning about this. Have they called any strikes or taken any industrial action?

How have they defended the workers in these call centres or defended the workers who have supported them? What exactly are they doing while the workers commit suicide?

Especially, why have they accepted AWA’s throughout the public service?

This should not be a battle in the media but in the workplace.’

Ian Curr
3398 5215

PS For those that missed “Tough Calls” the program will be repeated on Wednesday 20th June at 11.35pm; also on ABC2 at 9.30 pm Wednesday and 8 am Thursday 21 June 2007.

PPS The name of the 4 CORNERS show may be taken from a book “Tough Calls: AT&T and the Hard Lessons Learned from the Telecom Wars” By Dick Martin. The blurb about it says “How competition, the media, and some questionable decisions nearly disconnected AT&T”.

3 thoughts on “No Action on Worker Suicides at Telstra

  1. Andrea Walsh says:

    This is a tragedy that these workers killed themselves and that others had to leave.

    They should have put in workers compensation claims, then, in theory, if there were enough claims Comcare would investigate Telstra.

    Unfortunately the relevant union didn’t support them or they didn’t ask for help from the union.

  2. The union is out the door once a worker signs an AWA. It’s like a person signs away their right to union representation, a person really needs to take the contract to a solicitor to give it a once over. The latest federal tv commercials discussing a worker’s rights are all rubbish, not when an employer wants the form signed almost straight away, giving a potential employee no time to have the contract evaluated.

    I found myself in that situation. Respective of Telstra, they really need to evaluate their managerial hierarchy, particularly line managers because there are many cases where these people have poor communication skills and I know, I work there, and have witnessed many conversations that were negative, that targeted a person on a personal level rather than focusing on rectifying errors or understanding processes. These tragic stories shocked me, because no workplace is worth one ending one’s life, but in the wake of these two suicides, I could pick many moments from my day where workers are addressed like they are robots, feelings not taken into consideration, communication so poor that it does little to motivate one to continue. This form of criticism doesn’t come from senior managers, but from lowly management.

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