TELSTRA says its customers will get better service from Filipino or Indian call centre workers who will take over from many of the 648 Australian workers the telco axed on Thursday.
Telstra executive John Allan told BusinessDay that "the vendors that we are considering provide services for customers that go beyond our service today, such as 24/7 operations and unique technologies that assist in processing efficiencies, which they do for many directory businesses around the world".
Earlier on Thursday, Mr Allan, who is managing director of the Sensis directories business, allegedly told union officials that "Australians will get better customer services from Manila or India. They have better technology and innovation." Community and Public Sector Union spokesman Julian Lee said the comments were made during a meeting with union officials after Telstra announced the job cuts at the ailing Sensis unit.
The cuts, which include moving 391 customer service positions to the Philippines or India, come just two weeks after the telco booked a record half-year profit of $1.6 billion.
The company is slashing costs to arrest revenue decline at Sensis, which was once a cash cow. Telstra hopes to turn the struggling print-based media business, which produces the Yellow Pages and White Pages directories, into one that is better suited to the digital market.
"Until now we have been operating with an outdated print-based model - this is no longer sustainable for us," said Mr Allan. "Our future is online and mobile."
Prime Minister Julia Gillard described Telstra's decision as dreadful news. "Really dreadful news, particularly for the staff members. It's always incredibly tough when someone loses a job," Ms Gillard told Adelaide radio station 5AA.
The CPSU condemned the company's actions. "Telstra has done well out of Australia, its profits have risen off the back of hard-working staff and loyal customers and this is how it repays them - by sending almost 400 jobs offshore. And, to add insult to injury, we have been told that one of the reasons why they are doing so is because Australian consumers can get better customer service in the Philippines or India," CPSU national secretary Nadine Flood said.
The Sensis business has been under pressure in recent years as customers desert print for digital advertising. At Telstra's most recent half-yearly results, the unit reported a 12.6 per cent fall in revenue.