news The nation’s largest telco has revealed it will cut some 651 Australian jobs in areas such as customer support, with some of the work to be absorbed by other workers locally and some to be offshored to facilities in countries such as the Phillipines.
In a statement released this week, the telco revealed it would close two customer contact centres in the rural centre of Lismore in NSW and part of its facility in Townsville, Queensland, with the calls “being absorbed by other Telstra and FOXTEL contact centres”. Additionally, “back of house voice and broadband testing functions”, which the telco currently performs in Melbourne and Sydney, will be absorbed into other facilities in Townsville and Perth.
“Some of this work will also be undertaken by existing partner contact centres offshore,” the telco said. Telstra said that if its proposals proceeded, some 180 jobs would be lost in its Melbourne and Sydney facilities, with a further 126 roles in Townsville and 116 in Lismore. A number of additional contractor roles will also be lost.
“We operate in a fast moving, highly competitive market,” the telco said. “To keep pace with this changing environment and remain competitive, like every business we’re constantly reviewing the way we work to identify opportunities to improve customer service and simplify our business.
“Specifically call volumes have declined more than 20 per cent over the last twelve months and are anticipated to continue to decline over the next few years as more customers move to online and use our various self-serve options. In fact, 30 per cent of our customers now use online transactions. As a result, we believe we need fewer contact centres in the future. We’re also a changing business, with some parts of the business shrinking and other areas growing due to changing technologies and customer trends. As we have seen in recent times, this has meant adding staff in growth areas while reducing staff in others, and this evolution will continue.”
Part of the stimulus for the changes has also come through recent changes to Telstra’s contract with its joint venture partner FOXTEL, where after-sales service for FOXTEL by Telstra customers will now be performed by FOXTEL. This particularly affects Telstra’s Lismore contact centre.
The company said that all affected staff would be invited to apply for roles in other parts of Telstra. “Successful applicants will be provided with additional assistance for relocation costs,” the telco said. “We will also work closely with staff and the local community, to see if there’s other redeployment opportunities, along with helping with CV writing and interview training, financial advice and generous redundancy provisions.”
The news was immediately met with heavy criticism from union representatives, with the Communications Workers Union, for example, telling the ABC that it was only notified of the 651 job losses after the cuts had been made, and that it was concerned about offshoring in Telstra’s operations.
In many respects I can’t help but see this move as a positive one, in that it reflects the fact that Telstra is fundamentally changing its nature from a company which used to do all customer support via telephone, and now provides a substantial amount of self-service options online, which rivals such as iiNet, for example, have offered for years. Telstra’s online self-service portals aren’t quite up to iiNet’s standards yet, but they’ve made a great deal of progress on this issue since the company’s chief executive David Thodey took the reins several years ago. And naturally, as this happens, call volumes are going to go down.
In addition, it’s also a fact that virtually every major Australian corporation employs offshore staff for contact centre operations. Telstra is merely one of the last major corporations to cut its costs in this manner — iiNet and TPG, for example, have operated offshore call centres for years. Call centre work is tough work and always the first to get outsourced overseas — I don’t think this would have come as a colossal surprise to those in the industry. And a fitter, leaner, healthier Telstra is a good thing for Australia in general. This is the nature of capitalism — work goes where it can be done most efficiently.
However, it is also a very sad day for those staff affected by the Telstra culls, and I wish them the best of luck finding new roles. I’ve gone through a redundancy or two myself in my years in the IT industry, so I know what it’s like. Telstra is still a huge corporation, so I hope many of the affected staff can find roles in other divisions. If not, unemployment is still low in Australia, so I’m sure something will eventually turn up — even though it might not be in a rural area like Lismore or Townsville and might involve moving.
Image credit: Telstra