The Guardian August 15, 2001


Westpac sells off call centre workers

by Bob Briton

Westpac announced last week that work at its mortgage processing call 
centre at Lockleys in Adelaide would be "outsourced" and placed under the 
management of the giant Texas computer firm, EDS. The deal is reported to 
be worth about $1 billion over ten years.

Workers at the centre had been involved in ongoing industrial action 
including stopwork meetings to get meaningful undertakings from Westpac 
about preserving jobs, pay and conditions in the event of a takeover.

Finance Sector Union (FSU) National Secretary, Tony Beck, confirmed 
workers' worst fears about the current situation. He told the media that 
there is nothing in the deal to legally oblige EDS to honour current job 
numbers or pay and conditions and that even the official Westpac 
presentation to staff only promises that..."Your terms, conditions & 
benefits will be overall comparable to those that you currently have at 
Westpac".

This lack of commitment is particularly galling to the 1200 workers at The 
Mortgage Centre (TMC) because negotiations to arrive at a new Enterprise 
Development Agreement with Westpac have been so difficult and drawn out. 
Westpac resisted the FSU's pay claims even though 80 per cent of workers 
there had received no increase in 1999 or 2000. Some had not received a pay 
increase since the centre opened in 1996.

TMC staff were incensed at the time that the banking group was dragging the 
chain over pay increases while inflation since March 1999 had wiped 8.4 per 
cent off their wages. The announcement in May of a $924 million half yearly 
profit and the revelation that the community had paid a staggering $1.28 
million in fees and charges in the same period further inflamed the 
situation.

Workers had to implement a series of work bans to bring matters to a head. 
Staff in the Credit Section took very effective action in the form of a 
"work to rule" campaign.

Westpac is quite clear about this question of the enterprise agreements 
held with workers at their wholly owned subsidiary: "The EDA (old or new) 
does not apply to EDS after we outsource.instead, you will be protected by 
your letters of offer ... ". 

These letters of offer are due to arrive from mid-September before the 
takeover is completed in mid-November.

Westpac has maintained throughout the recent negotiations that workers 
would not lose out and that it simply could not understand the workers' 
concerns. It appears, though, that it is not only TMC staff and the FSU 
that are worried.

State Treasurer, Rob Lucas, said publicly that he would be monitoring 
developments to safeguard the taxpayers' interest in the matter. He was 
referring to the fact that the jobs at the call centre were established 
with the help of government incentives of up to $30 million and that 
Westpac had entered into contracts to obtain the handout.

Westpac's lack of understanding for the concerns of workers and their 
unions regarding job security has to be believed. It seems to have had very 
few qualms about wiping out 5500 jobs since March 1999.

SA State Secretary of the FSU, Karen Brown, told The Guardian that 
representatives of the union will be meeting with EDS officials in Sydney 
on Tuesday to discuss the situation before reporting to members.

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