Telecommunications workers, equipment service technicians and university and public sector ICT staff are all set to be at the forefront of a concerted industrial relations reform push by the re-elected Coalition government after it decimated Labor at the polls.
With Coalition control of the Senate nearly assured, the Coalition has again vowed to eliminate compulsory unionism in workplaces and allow companies to discard union- negotiated awards in favour of individual employee contracts for employees.
With Prime Minister John Howard delaying the timetable for the reintroduction of stalled Senate bills until the formation of a new Cabinet, Nationals Senator Ron Boswell said industrial reforms ought be the first cab off the Senate but dodged questions on the full sale of Australia's largest unionized ICT workplace, Telstra.
The sale of the remainder of Telstra is also unlikely to go down well with unions, especially the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU), which bitterly opposed Telstra's offshoring of 450 applications development jobs to India under a contract with IBM Global Services.
A union source close to Telstra said while privatization may ultimately be inevitable, real battle lines for existing staff will be to "stop them from selling off our conditions, our entitlements and the basic right to a fair deal".
The last fortnight has also seen sustained industrial action in the ICT sector with Fuji Xerox flying in overseas strikebreakers to compensate for hundreds of Australian Services Union members who went out on indefinite strike at the end of September over pay and entitlements claims.
Australian Computer Society president Edward Mandla said while Telstra was "gone", the IT sector would be more focused on achieving positives outcomes with the help of government, primarily sustained local jobs growth.
"[IT] is not a unionized industry...but work-life balance is extremely important. We've defined what work-life balance is and we've given our report to the government. It's going to be a whopper for us, especially with Howard expressing his support for it," Mandla said.
Mandla also welcomed the government's backing of formalized industry standards for ICT professionals saying it would help ease crippling professional liability insurance premiums for contractors and smaller local firms competing for government business.
"The only way to reduce liability [pressures] is through professional standards," Mandla said.
Australian Council of Trade Unions president Sharan Burrow said that with nearly 2.2 million Australians now casually employed, the challenge remained "to generate sustainable and secure employment by investing more in infrastructure and comprehensively fixing the national skills shortage".
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