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Telstra confirms information was leaked by video in January indicating some call centres would be closed.

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MARK COLVIN: While Senator Alston is trying to convince the two Independents to support the sale of Telstra, his case isn’t being helped by Telstra itself. In a leaked video, Telstra told staff back in January some call centres would be closed and employees would know more in April or May. But Telstra still hasn’t made any public announcements. Labor claims that’s because the crucial privatisation vote is yet to be taken.


Alexandra Kirk reports from Canberra.


ALEXANDRA KIRK: The leaked Telstra video stars the managing director of information and connection services, Judy Slatyer, giving the first and only inkling of the company’s plan to close call centres.



JUDY SLATYER: There will be call centre closures and I think, as we talked before about, we have to find a way to get our costs down. You will get a fairly good idea round the middle of the year, or maybe earlier, about what is the business doing, what are all the changes, and then we’ll be working together to put the changes in place.


ALEXA NDRA KIRK: But four months since that talk to employees, Telstra has made no announcements about how many operator assisted call centres and which ones would be shut down. The federal opposition says some managers have indicated the announcement’s regarded as politically sensitive, which therefore would affect its timing. Perhaps Telstra thought, back in January, the Senate debate would have been over by now. And the man in charge of the very tricky task of steering privatisation through the Senate, communications minister, Richard Alston, labelled the leak of closures ‘union propaganda’.


RICHARD ALSTON: I do not know anything of any plans that you want me to confirm. Since late last year Telstra has been considering ways of improving its operator assisted services business. The outcome of this consideration, Madam President, is that Telstra has now decided to focus on growing this business - growing, expanding, improving, in other words recognising how important ... well, there you go, what can you say, what can you say. Expanding, growing, he says, closing. In other words, I mean, it is a complete waste of ... I don’t know why we have compulsory education, Madam President. If someone says to you: ‘growing means expanding’, and you say: ‘oh, I got it, closing’. Well, no wonder you failed all those exams. I mean, no wonder they threw you out of primary teaching, but you shouldn’t come in here and inflict your lack of knowledge on us.


Any changes in its OAS infrastructure will only be made once it’s determined how successful its business growth strategies are.


ALEXANDRA KIRK: Telstra’s Judy Slatyer says the company has now decided to focus on growing its business.


JUDY SLATYER: In January we went to our people saying to them: we need to make quite a few changes in our business in order for us to be successful into the future and to give them a positive and rewarding future. What we’ve decided in the last few months is the best way for us to do that is to grow our business and to focus on revenue growth.


ALEXANDRA KIRK: So you’re not going to close any call centres?


JUDY SLATYER: Well, what that means for our centres is that we haven’t made decisions on call centre closures and we won’t be making decisions until we see just how successful we are in achieving our revenue target.


ALEXANDRA KIRK: So you’re saying that you’ve put that idea on hold?


JUDY SLATYER: What we’re saying is we always look at the whole business. We have to keep the business moving, and it would be unrealistic of me to lead my people to believe that our business won’t change. But we’ve decided to focus on what’s pretty exciting, which is growing our business and growing our revenues.


ALEXANDRA KIRK: So when you say growing your business, does that mean more call centres?


JUDY SLATYER: It means new products and it means new services, new services solutions. If they’re successful it means people are needed to manage those. I think it’s fairly evident that the call centre industry, Australia wide, is growing strongly. I think the growth rate is about 15 per cent, and we’re looking to tap into that growth and make the most of it.


ALEXANDRA KIRK: What’s made you decide from wanting to close call centres now to wanting to expand them - perhaps the Senate debate on Telstra?


JUDY SLATYER: No, absolutely not. What I put out in January was a video to all of my people. I’m, as Telstra is, very committed to communicating with my people and being open about change and in fact involving them in change. The whole video talked a lot about what are the opportunities for growing our business. It also said to our people, as I needed to, that we need to cut costs.


ALEXANDRA KIRK: Well, cutting costs wouldn’t suggest that you’re planning to expand call centres. That would increase costs, wouldn’t it?


JUDY SLATYER: Well, it depends how we would do that.


ALEXANDRA KIRK: What about outsourcing call centres? Is that on the cards?


JUDY SLATYER: We already outsource about 30 per cent of our traffic.


ALEXANDRA KIRK: And would you consider outsourcing more?


JUDY SLATYER: What we’re looking to do is how to make that arrangement better. It hasn’t worked well in the past and so we’re looking to make it better for our business, better for our people.


ALEXANDRA KIRK: And when you say better, what does that mean?


JUDY SLATYER: It means a regime that is more sustainable and that offers ... currently we offer casual employment but we’re looking to one that can give our people permanent employment.


ALEXANDRA KIRK: So you’re talking about more call centres in the future or not?


JUDY SLATYER: That depends on how successful our growth strategies are, as I said before.


ALEXANDRA KIRK: So in January you said call centres would close; now you’re saying that’s on hold and you may expand them?


JUDY SLATYER: No, what I’m saying is we have not made any decisions to close centres. What we’re going to focus on is how we grow our business.


ALEXANDRA KIRK: And that may mean though, in the future, that call centres may close?


JUDY SLATYER: I think it would be unrealistic of me to say that ... either way to that. I mean, it’s a fact of life that the business changes and we have to change our business to meet that.


MARK COLVIN: Judy Slatyer, Telstra’s managing director of information and connection services, with Alexandra Kirk.