CPSU up in arms over "unsafe" IBM staff cuts

CPSU up in arms over "unsafe" IBM staff cuts

The CPSU (Community and Public Sector Union), also known as the Communications Union, has taken action against IBM GSA for the second time in just over six months, this time for laying-off 64 staff in a move the CPSU says is "a risk to public safety".

Big Blue's services division signalled its intention to cut 64 staff in its Sydney and Melbourne data management centres responsible for monitoring and maintaining the "000" Emergency Service systems. The systems enable telephone operators to identify the street address of emergency service callers.

According to a union spokesperson, 150 CPSU members took industrial action for 48 hours from last Thursday evening (05/04/01) till Saturday evening (07/04/01), before meeting IBM GSA officials on Sunday.

IBM GSA informed the CPSU around 59 staff will go from the Sydney management centre, which according to Stephen Jones, assistant secretary, CPSU Communications, effectively disbands support for the "000" Emergency Services site in Sydney, with only "skeleton staff" remaining. The Melbourne office, which will also lose five staff, will now remotely host the management and monitoring of the system.

"But the problem with this is that it leaves no one there for the maintenance of the site," said Jones. He claims the Emergency Services site in Sydney reports two significant problems per year that require maintenance.

IBM GSA took over the maintenance and monitoring support of the "000" Emergency Services when Telstra outsourced the task in 1997.

Jones is "hopeful but not optimistic" that IBM GSA will heed the Union's fears that any sackings will put the general public in danger.

"We can't understand how the government could allow this multinational to push ahead with job cuts when the risk to public safety is so great," Jones said.

IBM GSA hit back against the CPSU's claims saying it had informed its staff of "structural" changes within the company three weeks ago designed to "improve infrastructure".

A spokesperson for IBM GSA claims the staff have been given the option to relocate (to Melbourne), be re-deployed within IBM or take a redundancy package.

"The restructuring was never going to be an impact to [IBM's] customer service," the spokesperson added.

Meanwhile, a statement released by the CPSU said it received a letter from the management of IBM. The letter stated the "computer and other systems vital for public welfare as well as commercial and industrial operations" are at risk if the data management site in Sydney was left without staff during the 48-hour strike. IBM intends to continue with the staff cuts all the same.

However, the IBM GSA spokesperson vehemently denied the industrial action posed "any danger" to the public had the Emergency Services systems encountered a problem and that these claims are not accurate.

The CPSU claims IBM is putting corporate profit before public safety and that cost-saving measures would be better made in other areas of the company, such as from high-level management salaries. According to Jones the general rule of thumb is 30 staff equals $1 million, so the staff cuts could in theory save IBM GSA $2 million. "That would be about a fifth of the CEO's salary," added Jones.

Although the IBM GSA spokesperson cited technological improvements that enable the company to maintain service agreements with fewer staff, she did not deny IBM GSA would be lowering its operating expenses through the job cuts. However, she was unwilling to comment on how much the company would save in the process.

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