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Friday, 11 October 1985
Page: 1115

(Question No. 246)

Senator Vigor asked the Minister representing the Minister for Communications, upon notice, on 23 April 1985:

(1) Since 1 January 1983 how many phone operators have been recruited by Telecom:

(a) as permanent staff,

(b) for fixed terms of 3 months or less, and

(c) for fixed terms of more than 3 months.

(2) In each 6 month period since 1 January 1983, what proportion of staff whose fixed-term contract ended in that period were then recruited either permanently or for another fixed term.

(3) In each 6 month period since 1 January 1983, how many phone operators have been replaced after contracting Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) and what steps have been taken to minimise the incidence of RSI when new equipment has been introduced.

Senator Walsh —The Minister for Communications has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question, based on advice from the Australian Telecommunications Commission:

(1) Since 1 January 1983 the recruitment levels for Manual Assistance staff have been as follows:

(a) Staff permanently appointed-approximately 1270.

(b) and (c) It is not possible to ascertain the length of time of fixed terms of employment without a detailed examination of the individual records of all Manual Assistance staff. The employment is however approved in accordance with strict guidelines which focus on workload needs and vacancies which are not likely to be of a continuing nature. Fixed terms of employment of Manual Assistance staff since 1 January 1983 have totalled approximately 1200. A number of these are new employees and the remainder are existing fixed term staff whose initial periods of employment have been extended because the workload requirements have continued longer than initially expected or, who have re-engaged into other temporary vacancies which have arisen.

(2) Approximately 60-70 per cent of fixed term staff are either offered permanent appointment because a suitable vacancy has arisen or another fixed term contract because the workload requirement has extended longer than initially expected or another temporary vacancy has arisen.

(3) Telecom has a policy whereby staff reporting at least one week of time lost with RSI are immediately placed on the `inoperative staff list' which enables fixed term staff to be employed as replacements. This remains the situation until either the injured person returns to full time work or otherwise ceases.

The number of reported RSI cases in the Manual Assistance area, and therefore the number of staff replaced, are as follows:

January-June 1983-111

July-December 1983-183

January-June 1984-299

July-December 1984-801

January-June 1985-588

With regard to reducing the incidence of RSI in the Manual Assistance area, a joint Telecom-Australian Telephone and Phonogram Officers Association Task Force has recently completed an examination and has made recommendations on this matter. Action is about to commence on these recommendations and this along with a number of prevailing initiatives is expected to contribute to the reduction of RSI. Some examples are as follows:

The introduction of RSI education sessions for keyboard staff.

The preparation and introduction of comprehensive guidelines covering the implementation and use of screen based keyboard equipment.

The consideration of organisational strategies to introduce improved job design or job enlargement for keyboard staff.

The introduction of appropriately designed equipment and improved working environments and the ongoing consideration of improvements in these areas.