Trade union Solidarity on Friday took to social media to accuse Telkom of “playing dirty” and interfering with the union’s communications with its members.
“Telkom wage talks: Telkom playing dirty as Telkom is blocking union’s electronic communication to its members,” the union said through its official Twitter account, @solidariteit.
Last week, Telkom held bilateral meetings with Solidarity and the South African Communications Union (Sacu) to clarify aspects of the telecommunications operator’s wage offer, which both unions have to date rejected.
Solidarity spokesman Marius Croucamp told TechCentral on Friday that the union complained to Telkom about blocking its e-mail communication. E-mails from Solidarity to its members are being filtered to spam boxes or are bouncing, he claimed.
“We’ve had complaints from our members and our IT guys say they’ve sent mails that have come back to them,” Croucamp said. “It’s sudden. This didn’t used to happen”.
Croucamp said the union sometimes notices tactics like this during wage negotiations and is “very unhappy” about it.
Telkom spokesman Pynee Chetty said the operator believes that “out of respect for organised labour”, it must allow the unions the opportunity to communicate the company’s offer to their constituencies.
He said that in order to try and facilitate this, Telkom even allows its employees who don’t have Internet access to get onto the unions’ websites using Telkom’s intranet. “E-mails could get blocked by spam filters or because of their content,” Chetty added. E-mails failing to reach their recipients could be because of a problem with servers outside of Telkom’s control.
Nevertheless, Chetty said Telkom’s corporate security group is looking into the problem. “Telkom can categorically deny that we would do this willingly or on purpose. We are now investigating what could have gone wrong. As this information comes through we will communicate it.”
Wage negotiations between Telkom, Sacu and Solidarity ground to a halt last week with both unions requesting strike certificates from the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation & Arbitration.
Croucamp said the unions will receive the strike certificates Friday but that immediate strike action is unlikely because the unions are still in the process of explaining Telkom’s offer to their members and will then need to get a mandate from them as to how to proceed.
“That will take us into next week,” Croucamp said. “We should know by Tuesday where we go next. We will still prioritise negotiations. Telkom says it wants to keep the communication channel open. It is open, but there’s nothing happening.”
The wage dispute began in March when a two-year wage deal came to an end. Telkom initially offered a 6%/year increase across the board for three years, but then altered its position saying it wanted to reduce wage disparity and the increase would no longer be uniform but would be scaled depending on employees’ jobs and salaries.
Croucamp said this approach means some employees will receive increases well below 6%, while others’ salaries and wages will remain unchanged for three years.
“We’ve demonstrated patience and reasonableness,” Croucamp said. “We just want an inflation-linked increase. Most settlements we see out there are above that. We are asking for the lowest figure in the ballpark.”
According to Croucamp, Telkom has demonstrated that the funds required to meet the unions’ demands are there, but that the revised terms remain untenable. “The money is there, but the way Telkom wants to apply it is the bone of contention.”
Sacu president Michael Hare and Communication Workers Union chairman Thabo Mogalane could not be reached for comment.
Update: TechCentral has received the following statement from Telkom…
“On discussion with the trade union representative, the one responsible for disseminating Solidarity’s communication to employees, it was confirmed that they had experienced technical problems with the PC being used to send e-mail to their members, and that this PC had been unable to send or receive e-mail. When the trade union staff were contacted by Telkom technical support they were advised to reboot the PC. This was done at 11.30am today (19 July) and it has been reported that all e-mails have now been successfully sent.
“It was further confirmed that although the users of this PC were aware of how to obtain support when necessary, no fault request was logged with the Telkom IT service desk for assistance, nor was any attempt made to contact either mail system administrators or information security staff to report a potential problem.
“Telkom technical support was first contacted indirectly at 10.49am via the company’s media unit upon receiving media queries to this effect. This was the first official notification of a problem. The problem was identified and resolved within two hours of this notification.
“Telkom further confirms that it has no technical or procedural restriction in place that would prevent any union from communicating with its members via any means. Telkom has policies and procedures in place that protect and ensure the rights of all staff to secure and reliable communication. These policies strongly support and enforce the constitutional rights of all employees to a safe and secure working environment.
“Also, a fault ticket has now been logged with our IT service desk to check the PC in question to ascertain if the problem is due to software or hardware failure and if further remedial action is necessary.” — (c) 2013 NewsCentral Media