Federal Member for Page Janelle Saffin says Telstra needs to return to the negotiating table with the unions so that a new collective staff agreement can be struck.

“There are up to 300 Telstra staff in Lismore and Grafton and their rights need to be protected,” Ms Saffin said.

“Telstra walked away from negotiations with the unions in July, and is now trying to put forward a non-negotiated, non-union agreement for the staff to vote on.

“As I understand it, Telstra is asking current staff to vote on a proposal which includes lesser pay and conditions for new employees. Such a deal could set up a sub-class of employees.

“The ACTU secretary, Jeff Lawrence, has said there’s an implied threat that those who don’t sign up for Telstra’s offer will be punished with a 12-month wage freeze.

“While Telstra says it is acting within the law, this method of dividing its workforce is certainly not in accord with, or in the spirit of, the Rudd Government’s Forward with Fairness policy.

“At the election last year voters overwhelmingly rejected the Coalition’s mean-spirited WorkChoices legislation.

“The Rudd Government got rid of AWAs immediately when Parliament met and yet Telstra appears to be taking advantage of the gap before the new legislation is fully rolled out to lock in non-union agreements.

“The hundreds of Telstra employees in our area are entitled to have their union negotiate their employment agreement. Telstra needs to respect the right of its employees.”