The Guardian May 3, 2000


Telstra: is there still 51%?

by Marcus Browning

Massive job cuts, joint arrangements and mergers with a long list of 
companies, contracting out, the selling off of divisions and sections of 
services, the handing over of its technology to private networks: the 
privatisation of the whole of the remaining publicly owned 51 percent of 
Telstra is under way at speed. But do the public still, in reality, own 51 
percent?

While the "debate orchestrated by the Howard Government over the sale of 
the 51 percent is played out, the rug is being pulled from under the 
national telecommunications provider just as the Government is trying to 
pull the wool over the public's eyes.

In a complex series of linkages and deals Telstra is being slowly enclosed 
by the tentacles of the global telecommunications transnationals.

There is a myriad of ties between Kerry Packer's Publishing and 
Broadcasting, Rupert Murdoch's News Ltd and Telstra from their bases here 
in Australia.

For example, Publishing and Broadcasting Ltd and News Ltd both own Sky 
Cable which in turn owns shares in Foxtel which is in a joint venture with 
Telstra.

From there Telstra's BigPond has an alliance with Ninemsn, which in turn 
has shares in eCarp which is majority owned by Publishing and Broadcasting.

Beyond our shores there is last month's announcement by Telstra head Ziggy 
Switkowski of a deal between Telstra and Pacific Century CyberWorks of Hong 
Kong. In the deal Telstra gets 40 percent of a mobile phone company  and 
part ownership of a telecommunications group. Cost, $6.5 billion.

Hailed as the big move by Telstra into the Asian market, with no majority 
shareholding it is in reality Switkowski doing what he was brought from 
Optus by the Government to do: exposing Telstra to the major communication 
transnationals and lining his and other board members' pockets.

The Hong Kong deal is part of Pacific Century's plans for a $64 billion 
takeover of Cable and Wireless Hong Kong Telecom.

And the job slashing at Telstra continues with the announcement in March 
that a further 10,300 will be cut, many of them from call centres in high 
unemployment areas.

They will be on top of the 30 percent of directory assistance work that has 
been outsourced, contracted to private company Stellar where the workers 
lose conditions and are paid less.

Cornered on the ABC's 7.30 Report, Switkowski was forced to finally 
admit that call centres will close. "But you should not make the assumption 
that consolidation of call centres will lead to job losses in the bush, 
aware of the diminishing rural electoral support for the Government.

He said it may see Telstra "move some of our resources into regional areas, 
rather than keep them in city areas.

It wasn't long before the real meaning of this statement came to light in a 
leaked management document which outlined plans to lower the regional rates 
of pay of Telstra workers, particularly of staff on individual contracts.

The document said that "regional rates of pay could assist in determining 
work locations for call centres.

The document was part of a region-by-region examination of how and where to 
implement the planned jobs elimination program and cut spending by $650 
million per year.

Back to index page