The Fair Work Commission (FWC) has ruled in favour of a Telstra employee in a dispute regarding their classification in the telco’s enterprise agreement, entitling them to slightly higher pay.
With the backing of the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU), Fair Work agreed that the Telstra complex customer service specialist (CCSS) should be classified as Customer Support (Technical) in Telstra’s enterprise agreement.
Fair Work Commissioner Leigh Andrew Hyland Johns ruled that Telstra’s complex customer service specialist role “is not a customer enquiry role focused on straightforward or relatively simple enquiries” and that it often “requires the application of practical skills and knowledge of telecommunications and information technology”.
A Telstra spokesperson told CRN that the telco is "reviewing" the decision, issuing the following statement:
"Telstra has in place long-established processes for differentiating between ‘technical’ and ‘non-technical’ work in our enterprise agreement," the spokesperson said.
"Given this, we are considering the decision further, including a potential appeal in relation to some findings."
Telstra’s enterprise agreement, which was approved by FWC in June 2020, makes the following distinctions between the Customer Support (Non-Technical) and Customer Support (Technical) classifications:
“[Customer Support (Non-Technical) roles] are predominantly occupied in managing or undertaking customer enquiries typically relating to billing, scheduling of network faults, provisioning/order management, credit management, complaints management or directly in support of the field workforce,” according to section 15 of the agreement.
In comparison, the responsibilities of those under the Customer Support (Technical) classification include “managing or undertaking activities such as network construction, maintenance, operation, performance monitoring and equipment installation into the network or customer premises. Jobs also include fault identification, isolation, testing and/or repair, basic de- sign within existing infrastructure, product support and advice to other employees that is of a technical nature”.
The agreement also stipulated that Customer Support (Technical) employees are expected to apply practical skills and knowledge to the technical aspects of telecommunications and information technology, and that the work is focused on applying practical technical know-how and judgement within a specific discipline or area of technical work to undertake job tasks.
The CPSU argued that the employee more completely and accurately reflects the definition of the Customer Service (Technical) classification than the non-technical one, since they perform work in “fault identification, isolation, testing and/or repair, basic design within existing infrastructure, product support and advice to other employees that is of a technical nature”, which falls under the classification’s definition mentioned above.
Telstra conceded that the employee “may have particular skills, qualifications and abilities that may be beneficial” but Telstra also does not require them to discharge the duties of the position in which he is employed.
The telco also said that the CCSS role was not a “technical” one as it does not require any prior qualifications, knowledge or experience in information technology or telecommunications and that some in the role perform successfully without any such knowledge or skill. It also argued that CCSS training involved knowledge of call handling, Telstra product knowledge, and what tool to deploy in a given circumstance.
Fair Work’s Johns said the relevance of the case was the importance of how a person or role is defined and viewed. “This is because it affects their confidence and ability to do their job well. If an employee does not feel valued, it will diminish the quality of their work and squash innovation and new ideas. Valued and respected employees are more productive.”
Johns also pointed out that the CCSS employees provide services to what Telstra advertises as “tech support services” like Telstra Platinum and Telstra Business Services.
“Clearly some of the calls taken by [the employee] are ‘Non-technical’. It was an agreed fact that he takes calls about sales, billing, order management and complaints. These tasks clearly fall within the ‘Non-technical’ descriptor in the Agreement. But it is a minor part of his role,” Johns said.
“Beyond the calls about sales, billing, order management and complaints [the employee]’s role bears little resemblance to the ‘Non-technical’ descriptor.”
Johns also used a clothing metaphor to aid the decision, saying that “The ‘Non-technical’ descriptor is a very uncomfortable fit. He barely gets his arm into the sleeve of the jumper. He has outgrown it.”
“The ‘Technical’ descriptor is not a perfect fit. It’s a baggy fit. However, as between the two options it is the garment we are left with. It is the best fit.”
Updated 9 February 2:27pm: Added response from Telstra.
Updated 10 February 11:20am: CPSU Deputy National President Brooke Muscat issued the following statement on the FWC's decision:
"The CPSU welcomes the decision of Commissioner Johns. It finally recognises the important contribution workers perform for Telstra Platinum and Business Tech customers, assisting them with their WiFi, landline and NBN connection faults and other IT device and software issues."
"The decision says [the Telstra employee] should be classified as a Customer Support (Technical) under the Telstra EA, with a higher remuneration than his current classification. While the case revolved around this particular worker, it will have implications for other Telstra employees who work for Telstra Business Tech Services as Complex Customer Service Specialists. This technical classification is the right classification for the work done in this role.
"The successful case wouldn’t have been possible without the assistance of CPSU Telstra delegates and members."