14 July 2022

Women fighting back - the history of the PMG telephonist's union

Episode from 1 March

This week we talk to Jeff Rickertt from the Brisbane Labour History Association. In the leadup to International Working Women's Day we talked about the campaigns of the telephonists' union in the 1970s and 80s. Telephonists were the workers, mostly women, who operated the manual telephone exchanges across Australia for the Postmaster General's Department (PMG), the largest of all Commonwealth departments in its day. In the 1980s the telecommunications division of PMG became Telecom and was then privatised and renamed Telstra.

Until their jobs were destroyed by automation, the telephonists comprised one of the largest groups of women workers in Australia, and in the 1970s and early 1980s they and their union, the Australian Telephone and Phonogram Officers Association, emerged as one of the most militant public service unions in the country. Here in Meanjin they waged some truly amazing battles that really rattled the bosses.

Interview begins at 34:40