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Telstra staff and unions protested job cuts and offshoring outside the company’s Annual General Meeting in Sydney yesterday.

As far as AGMs go, it was pretty uneventful. That’s the way they are usually – votes are predictable (98% voted in favour of the Executive Remuneration report), the numbers already published, and any sign of dissent quietly sidelined.

There was some action at Telstra’s AGM at the Sydney Convention Centre yesterday, but it didn’t come from the floor of the meeting. A small but rowdy group of protestors managed to draw an equivalent number of media to hear their concerns about Telstra’s job cuts, and in particular the offshoring of jobs to India and elsewhere.

The protest was led by Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) organiser Teresa Davison, who said Telstra should stop the flow of work offshore and “back Australian jobs or risk losing skills and its intellectual property into the future.”

Davison says Telstra has cut over 3,000 jobs in Australia so far this year:

  • •1,100 announced earlier this month in its Operations division
  • •605 in the Sensis directories business
  • •And 1,552 other positions that have been made redundant across the entire group

“These are huge cuts by any standard. It’s bad news for workers losing their jobs but also bad news for the businesses that use Telstra as job cuts have led to a huge spike in unfixed faults. At the same time there are at least 10,250 people working offshore on Telstra business on any one shift.”

Predictably, Telstra CEO David Thodey defended the company’s activities. He was particularly vocal in his support of the company’s offshore workforce, couching it in terms of the increased internationalisation of the company.

“The rise of Asia’s middle class, which will grow to 3.2 billion people by 2030, will create an enormous appetite for quality goods and services,” he said at the AGM. ”Asia’s rise is creating opportunities for us to expand our footprint across Asia, and help Australian, European and American companies make the leap into Asian markets.

“On the offshoring of work, our customers increasingly want to interact with us online. 40% of customer transactions were completed online in 2013 – compared to only 30% in 2012 – and this percentage will grow again this year. This means that our contact centre work is declining quickly and will continue to do so.

“All of our centres, whether they are here or overseas, are held to the same standards of customer service, privacy and security information. Ultimately, our aim is to keep creating new jobs that are sustainable in an increasingly digital, mobile and global world, and that’s what we’re doing.”

None of which makes much difference to the unions. “Telstra has been making huge profits and providing decent dividends on the back of the hard work of its talented and dedicated local workforce,” said Davison. “These are the staff that design, deliver and service all the gadgets and products that has made Telstra successful.

“Telstra is actively helping overseas companies build their capacity to take Telstra’s Australian jobs. What does that mean for future Telstra dividends if it is left to other companies to come up the products of the future? Telstra shareholders need to be aware of the scale of what is in effect the creation of an alternative workforce.”

Davison said the CPSU had identified six companies in three countries – the Philippines, India and Malaysia –that are doing work for Telstra on residential billing, prepaid mobile phones and servicing BigPond Internet customers.

“Telstra likes to boast that it is ‘creating’ new jobs but what it doesn’t like to mention is that for the most part these jobs are overseas and were once fulfilled by an Australian worker. For a company that is going to receive $11 billion in taxpayer funds for the NBN and recently signed a $500 million IT support contract for Defence, Telstra has a responsibility to Australian consumers, taxpayers and shareholders.”

Telstra, of course, regards its responsibility as primarily to its shareholders. Telstra shares are now back at $5 – they had fallen as low as $4.50 in June. The company is strong financially – especially when compared to its major competitors, and it is unlikely to be adversely affected by any changes the Coalition will make to the NBN.

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Graeme Philipson

Graeme Philipson is senior associate editor at iTWire and editor of sister publication CommsWire. He is also founder and Research Director of Connection Research, a market research and analysis firm specialising in the convergence of sustainable, digital and environmental technologies. He has been in the high tech industry for more than 30 years, most of that time as a market researcher, analyst and journalist. He was founding editor of MIS magazine, and is a former editor of Computerworld Australia. He was a research director for Gartner Asia Pacific and research manager for the Yankee Group Australia. He was a long time IT columnist in The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, and is a recipient of the Kester Award for lifetime achievement in IT journalism.

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