Thousands of Telstra employees across Australia are expected to walk off the job on Tuesday in a bid to force the telecommunications company to deliver a bigger pay rise.
The 24-hour strike is expected to be concentrated in the group's maintenance area, which covers fault repairs, investigations, new national broadband network (NBN) connections and diagnostics.
Triple-0 call centres, which are controlled by Telstra, and any staff performing services relating to medical emergencies are excluded from the strike action. Telstra said it did not expect any material impact on its customers generally.
Telstra has been in negotiations with the Communications Electrical Plumbing Union (CEPU) since early 2018 over a new enterprise bargaining agreement. The union has been angered by Telstra's proposed pay rise of 4.5 per cent over three years, or 1.5 per cent a year, which it argues is a pay cut in real terms as it is below the current rate of inflation.
The CEPU communications division's national president, Shane Murphy, said the initial plan was for workers to take action such as refusing to log on to Telstra's job allocation system 30 minutes ahead of their paid start time.
But he said the union was advised this could result in staff wages being cut for a full day, so it decided to hold a day's general strike instead.
"The reason we’re taking any protected industrial action is because Telstra is trying to force workers to take a pay cut, in real terms," Mr Murphy said in a statement.
"Workers have spent many months trying to get Telstra to come to the table with a fair wage offer, and all Telstra is doing is axing jobs and slashing wages."
Chief executive Andy Penn is in the midst of a plan to slash 8000 jobs – about a quarter of the workforce - under a plan to turn around the company's fortunes, which have been battered by intense mobile competition and disruption from the NBN.
“Thousands of Telstra workers across the country will send a message to Telstra on Tuesday that it’s time to take the workforce seriously. We can’t continue to let those at the top of Telstra attack its workers and drive our once-iconic telco into the ground,” Mr Murphy said.
The union estimates more than 5000 staff members could walk off the job. Telstra said membership of the CEPU totalled 3275 and 56 per cent voted for industrial action, which is voluntary.
The CEPU was one of three unions representing staff, a Telstra spokesman said, and represented about 10 per cent of its employees.
"While it is disappointing that the CEPU has decided to encourage this action during what is a challenging time for our business, we respect the legal right of the union and its membership to do so," he said.