Tuesday, June 5, 2007

I Declare Bullshit On Telus

Telus spokesman Shawn Hall has recently made some statements to the media about Canadian employment and the use of outsourcing in an attempt to justify the company's actions towards its employees. You can read the complete Vancouver Sun article HERE.

Telus is a majority owner of Ambergris International, a call centre based in the Philippines, and is shifting employment there. Telus, it seems, is finally (in a very small way) attempting to address concerns about this, via spokesman Shawn Hall. I've excerpted several important points from the above-linked Vancouver Sun article on the subject that I'd like to address. Frankly, they smell like bullshit to me. I'd like to see how (if at all) the company addresses this.

A link to this post has been mailed to Mr. Hall. You might want to send him a link to this blog entry too. If you do, his address is shawn.hall@telus.com. Tell him I sent you.

First, the relevant points:

"In June, Telus told the Telecommunications Workers Union that it would be hiring 50 new employees for its call centre in Manila to field customer calls from Telus's wireless subscribers. That adds to the 750 agents based in Manila that already deal with Telus's landline and internet customers. Telus hopes to increase the total to 1,000 by the end of the year, company spokesman Shawn Hall said."

The TWU believes customers ought to know.

'After the labour dispute in 2005, Telus assured us it would not outsource any more Canadian jobs to India or the Philippines,' TWU president George Doubt said in a news release. 'Yet the company has continued to redirect customers' calls to workers abroad.

'They don't publicize it because they know customers will be concerned when they discover their personal and business phone records are being accessed in foreign countries.'"

"The downside for the Canadian consumer is the quality of service is reduced, their privacy is at risk from our point of view, and jobs that could be being done by Canadians in our communities are not there," Doubt said in an interview.

And now, Shawn Hall speaks, and I declare "bullshit":
"We are simply not able to hire enough contact centre agents in Canada to meet the demand from our customers and the growth in our business," Hall said.

BULLSHIT. A great deal of this work is being done now in Calgary, where I used to handle inbound customer calls from my desk on the seventh floor of the Telus Tower. Even now, in Calgary's unusually tight labour market, the place is still hiring. The problem isn't finding the people... the problem is retaining them. When I worked there, my section had an annual employee turnover rate approaching 100 percent per year.

Telus used to make regular appearances on Macleans Magazine's list of Canada's 50 Best Employers. Under the leadership of Darren Entwistle, with his "fit in or fuck off" (and yes, that's a quote) approach to business, morale and conditions have steadily worsened. I know. I was there to see it, and still hear from those I left behind.

"We're not shifting jobs, we're shifting work," Hall said. "That means no one is losing their job."

BULLSHIT. Setting aside the "it's not a flooded basement, it's an indoor pool" nature of the logic in this statement, can anyone explain to me how it is that Telus is hiring more people in Manila, but fewer in Canada, and jobs aren't "shifting"? Unless of course Telus is planning on increasing total Canadian employment... in which case why not publicize that?

Telus is currently running an ad proclaiming what wonderful things Telus employees do as volunteers in the community. Canadian communities. I smell a smokescreen, don't you?

Cost does play a role, Hall said, with workers in the Philippines being paid the equivalent of just under $450 a month while Canadian call centre workers can make between $3,000 and $5,000 a month.

PROBABLY TRUE, EXCEPT FOR THE BULLSHIT PART. But what he isn't saying is that a substantial chunk of that money the Canadian employees make is from commission. Ever call in to Telus to ask about your service or your bill and whoever answered the call tried to sell you Anonymous Caller ID or Internet or something? Did you think that was coincidence? So according to Mr. Hall, either Telus is keeping the commission when a Filipino sells you something, or he's deliberately fudging the numbers.

And what sort of a slave-trader takes pride in someone doing a technically complex, skilled job for less than $25 a day?

Hiring offshore workers also helps relieve pressure on local workers and cuts back on the number of less desirable shifts they may have to work, he said. "It also allows Telus . . . to shift work around should a natural disaster strike," Hall said.

TRUE, IF YOU'RE INSANE. Nothing relieves the hassle of having an undesirable shift like being replaced with cheap foreign labour. And hey, remember that time when the phones were out for a week because Vancouver got nuked? Me neither.

For bonus points, look up for yourself whether Edmonton or Manila has been subject to more earthquakes, tsunamis, and terrorism. Maybe Telus is still keeping a few Canadian employees around if a natural disaster strike Ambergris.

Hall also disputes the claim that quality of service is affected or that privacy is compromised... "They don't publicize it because they know customers will be concerned when they discover their personal and business phone records are being accessed in foreign countries."

TRUE. People wouldn't like that. Telus has assured me in past (when I asked about this) that there are plenty of safeguards to prevent Filipino employees from ripping off your Visa number or personal information. I once did the same job as they do, at the same company, using the same software. I had access to the same records they do. If you had a Telus phone, and I wanted to rip you off, all I would have needed is a piece of paper and a pencil. Unless the Ambergris employees are more aware of how exploited they are than I thought, in which case maybe Telus has banned pencils (or any other sharp objects) in the call centre.

And don't take my word for it that overseas call centres are a threat to your personal security. Click HERE and read about it for yourself.


I'm awaiting your response, Shawn... while we're at it, when you write maybe you can explain to me how Telus can possibly have copyright control over a CFRN news report where another Telus spokesman lied about Canadians losing their jobs or a video of Telus security goons hassling picketers, among other things?

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