Some 575 workers at a major employer in the south-east are facing the dole in 30 days after telecomms giant TalkTalk dramatically announced it was shutting its call centre.
The company is pulling the plug on the Waterford operation after a huge fall in customer service phone business and amid plans to outsource.
It takes redundancies in the city to more than 2,000 in the last three years, creating the worst unemployment blackspot in the country.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the sudden closure was a real shock and concern for the workers.
“I know from bitter experience the difficulties for families and individuals where jobs are lost for whatever reason,” he said.
The call centre will close in 30 days, with staff offered the chance to meet management to discuss transfers. About 80 positions are available to staff willing to move to the UK.
Richard Bruton, jobs minister, was briefed by TalkTalk chiefs but it is understood he was told the decision could not be reversed.
“My thoughts are with the workers impacted by this announcement by TalkTalk, as well as their families,” he said.
Mr Bruton urged management to consider giving workers, enterprise chiefs in IDA Ireland and government more time to find a new business for the facility.
“I have asked the IDA to ensure that they make every possible effort to find alternative solutions for this excellent premises and this skilled workforce in the event that the site is closed, as proposed by the company.
“They assure me that work on this has already started,” he said.
TalkTalk bought the Waterford call centre, formerly an AOL broadband support centre for UK and Ireland, in 2008.
The company’s telephone and broadband business in Ireland and Belgium was acquired by the Digiweb Group last year but the Irish company has no role in the Waterford operation.
Mr Bruton said he would meet workers in Waterford in the next week, as well as management and local political and business representatives.
The massive job losses will further corrode a local economy already hit hard by redundancies at major pharmaceutical and electronic plants and the flagship crystal factory.
The local chamber put the real figure of job losses in the last few years at 3,000 plus.
In a statement, TalkTalk said call volumes across the whole of the contact business were down 40% year-on-year. It said the vast majority of its customer support was now online.
TalkTalk said the majority of business in the Waterford call centre would be moved to external companies contracted to do the work since June.
“As our largest in-house site, the proposed closure of Waterford also allows us to reduce complexity, simplify our skill sets and bring benefits to customers as quickly as possible,” TalkTalk said.
“Waterford is our only site that operates with the euro and the proposed change will therefore also limit our exposure to exchange rate fluctuations.
“We will be making every effort over the coming weeks to give those affected all the support and help they may need to consider their options for the future, including in some instances the option of relocating to another TalkTalk site,” the company said.
The Unite trade union launched a blistering attack on the Government following the announcement.
National co-ordinator Walter Cullen said the massive jobs blow came less than 24 hours after details emerged of a €700,000 pay-off for top civil servant Dermot McCarthy.
“Labour leader Eamon Gilmore should force his colleagues to do something rather than issue empty sound bites that ’pain should apply across the board’,” he said.
“The sense of anger among working people is added to by payments of over €250,000 to Bertie Ahern to cover expenses since he retired, an ongoing €143,000 per annum paid to failed regulator Paul Neary on top of his €630,000 pay off and so many more instances of the gilded elite feathering their nest at the expense of people who cannot afford to eat.
“We keep on hearing that the country is broke, that everyone must pay and, from the Taoiseach again today, that payments like these won’t happen again.
“We keep on hearing these same hollow promises, and the same thing happens again and again.”
Mr Cullen branded it obscene double standards.
“It is clear that there is one law for the rich in modern Ireland and another, much bleaker one for those outside the elite,” he said.
Senator David Cullinane, Sinn Féin, criticised the Government’s jobs initiative, announced in May, which he said had amounted to nothing.
“This is a crisis situation, not just for Waterford but for the entire south-east of the country which has the highest rate of unemployment in the state,” he said.
“The reality is that this Government is failing abysmally, not just to create jobs but also to protect them.”