Telkom has decided not to renew the contracts of 480 call centre staff, a spokesperson for the company has confirmed.
It said that the staff members in question were temporary workers and were notified in November that their contracts would not be renewed beyond the current contract periods.
Some of the contracts end at the end of December and others at the end of January 2015.
Concerned employees said the announcement came as a shock because many of their contracts had been renewed five consecutive times with the exact same conditions.
The Communication Workers Union (CWU) confirmed that it had taken up the fight on behalf of the affected workers.
It said that it had serious concerns about the “shenanigans” unfolding in Telkom’s call centres, as it had heard allegations that the company had secretly outsourced a number of call centre functions to other companies.
In particular, high-level ADSL support and Customer Retention had been moved to these “secret” call centres, CWU said, adding that it was done without consulting the relevant stakeholders.
This comes after Telkom agreed in 2012 to do away with labour brokers, and instead contract workers directly. The CWU said that Telkom also made an agreement with organised labour to then convert all contracted workers to permanent employees within a certain period.
The CWU explained that it knew about these outsourced call centres because they were calling some of the 480 workers, who had received termination letters, for job interviews.
“How can you be interviewed for your job? The job that they claimed has been eroded through ‘technology evolution’?” the CWU said.
It also argued that the call centre used to “receive 112,000 calls”, which had suddenly dropped to 8,000.
“This is not because of the good network or because customers are no longer reporting faults, but because those calls have been diverted to the alleged undercover call centres,” the CWU said.
Responding to these allegations, Telkom’s Managing Executive for Group Communication Jacqui O’Sullivan said that the only outsourced call centre is the one that is well known to the industry — that of the mobile business.
“You will recall that when Telkom’s mobile division was launched in 2010, the Company appointed an external vendor to manage the call centre requirements of that division,” O’Sullivan said. “This outsourced call centre has previously been used as an additional resource for additional call volumes from the fixed line side of the business.”
Queried further about the dispute, O’Sullivan said that these are never simple or easy decisions to take.
“In line with Telkom’s ongoing focus on cost management and its overall business turnaround, the company has taken the decision not to renew a number of contracts with call centre agents, who had been operating in a temporary capacity,” said O’Sullivan.
The CWU said that it had already submitted a letter of dispute to Telkom, and warned that it would take the matter to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration if needs be.
Update: Added Telkom’s response to the allegations of having “undercover call centres”.