Tuesday, September 02, 2008

The union strikes back against IBM Australia

My better half sent me a link to this story today. It's about a bunch of IBM Australia employees at IBM's Flightdeck in Baulkham Hills having voted overwhelmingly to "strike for better pay and conditions". When they received no response from IBM, they tentatively agreed to strike this week on Thursday or Friday.

At first, it's surprising that IBM employees would strike given the industry and also the reputation of the company. You don't typically associate IBM with the unions. But the more I think about it, the less surprising it becomes.

Many of you know I used to work for IBM and hence I have some insight into what it's like, especially within IBM Australia. Some parts are better than others. I served time in support, consulting services and sales. By far the worst part of IBM to be in was operations. In IBM, operations roles are typically within managed service environments where an organisation has outsourced IT functions to IBM. Many of Australia's big banks have done this and the article did mention that Westpac (one of Australia's biggest retail banks) would be among the organisations affected.

The managed services/outsourcing area of the company just sucks the life out of most people, and being part of the business as a graduate straight out of university made me vow NEVER to work in support or operations ever again if I could help it (I know, never say never). Needless to say, I made a decided effort to run as far away from that role as I possibly could. To IBM's credit, they did manage to get me a different role because I whined enough and because they could (given that IBM are huge and have so many different types of jobs in different business areas) and hence kept me with the company.

I should point out that my time in consulting and in sales was much more enjoyable, so I'm not putting IBM down as a company. In consulting, you're still treated like a resource so at times you feel like a number but working conditions by and large are much better. My time with IBM Software Group sales was by far my most enjoyable within IBM. Absolutely no complaints about the conditions there. As a bonus, the people I worked with were first class and I remain in contact with many of them even today (don't forget I live in a whole other country now - but I always catch up with my ex-colleagues whenever I'm in Australia).

Conditions aside, one thing IBM has always lagged behind in has been salary. They DO NOT pay market rates. I'm not sure they ever will. As an example, a few years ago I turned down a concrete offer to join CA (with almost a 50% increase in salary - Update: I should probably point out that at the time, people with Identity Management skills were very much in demand and companies would pay a premium. I'm in no way suggesting IBM pays almost 50% below the market.) because my colleagues convinced me not to (one in particular whom I shall always refer to as "Baron"). To be fair, my manager also managed to bring my salary a little more in line with the market but it still wasn't close to CA's offer. Long story short, I stayed and really pissed CA management off for wasting their time (sorry guys and gals). My own example isn't the exception to the rule. I know of quite a few others who had similar stories and left to take higher paying jobs. That said, there are many IBM veterans who know very well that they aren't being paid market value but stay because of the fact that they like working for IBM. What I'm saying is that it seems IBM make a concerted effort not to pay market rates because of all the intangible benefits they provide (emotional or otherwise). This is fine if working conditions are up to par. But as I said, in some parts of the company it isn't (especially if you take into account how good some other parts of IBM are to work in).

Which brings me back to the employees working for IBM's Flightdeck in Baulkham Hills. They work in exactly the area I mention - operations and support. I hope IBM do something about giving them some of the things they want and avoid inflicting pain on their customers who pay them a lot of money for the service. It's long overdue.

Update (5 Sept 2008): The strike's been called off...for now.

No comments: