Telstra to axe Grafton call centre

THE Telstra Business call centre in Grafton is set to close within months, forcing 108 people on to the dole queue, with Telstra blaming the site’s high union membership for the move.

Telstra issued a statement just after 2pm yesterday announcing the imminent closure and describing it as ‘business call centre consolidation’.

Only minutes before, Jamie D’Arcy, Telstra’s Perth-based business division general manager, addressed staff in the Fitzroy Street, Grafton, office about the ‘proposal’.

The media release said: “The move would see work currently being handled by Telstra Business representatives in Grafton, NSW, moving to newly-created jobs in Brisbane and Melbourne in November.

“Approximately 108 jobs would be redundant in Grafton if the proposal proceeds.”

Telstra spokesman Rod Bruem said there would be a net reduction of about 10 management positions due to the Grafton closure, which would also offer ‘greater efficiencies in bringing the three centres into two bigger centres’.

Asked why Grafton was chosen as the centre to close, Mr Bruem told The Daily Examiner: “Grafton is one of Telstra’s most unionised sites.”

A source from within the centre said the ‘writing had been on the wall’ for the centre for some time as indicated by: senior management’s boycott of the centre for the past three years; the directive from management to not recruit any new staff in the past three years; all other business call centres receiving senior management visits and employing new staff in the same period, and; the staffing levels dropping from about 250 several years ago, to 108 now.

The source, who asked not to be named due to the risk of losing her redundancy package, said Telstra employed about 2000 workers in the Philippines and predicted all Australian jobs would eventually move offshore. She said the centre, which had been operating for about 20 years, had proved to be productive team of loyal Telstra workers who were devastated by the news.

“There are single mums, couples, people who have just bought houses. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who are going to have to sell their homes,” she said. “I mean, where else are they going to get a job in Grafton?”

The woman said the call centre had the lowest attrition rate in Australia and its rural location meant it offered the cheapest overheads for rent in the country.

“And this is how they reward our loyalty – it doesn’t make any sense, even on a business case, it costs money to train new people and we manage to retain our workers.”

Mr Bruem denied senior management had boycotted Grafton, but confirmed the site’s high retention rate.

“Sometimes a high turnover rate helps with efficiency ... allowing younger, keen workers to get jobs.”

The call centre source said the lease on the Fitzroy Street office did not run out until October next year, which meant Telstra still had a $300,000 commitment to honour.

“So why are they closing it now? They say it’s to save costs, but that’s just rubbish. They (senior management) have told us that it is ‘too hard’ to get to Grafton because they have to change planes in Sydney – it’s just all about them, them, them.”

Regarding the redundancies on offer, the Telstra worker was less than impressed.

“If they’re anything like some of the previous ones on offer, they are useless,” she said. “We worked out that a person who has been there for more than 10 years would get about $20,000 – it’s beyond a joke.”

The Telstra statement said Grafton workers would be offered redundancies if Telstra was unable to find them alternative positions before November. Telstra Country Wide Director Sue Passmore said the closure was part of ‘an ongoing focus to simplify Telstra’s business and improve customers’ experience’.

Ms Passmore said the company’s redundancy provisions were among the most generous in the industry.

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