Kenny hits out at TalkTalk cuts

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has hit out at TalkTalk management, claiming the telecoms giant should have given the Government better notice it was shutting its south-east call centre.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has hit out at TalkTalk management, claiming the telecoms giant should have given the Government better notice it was shutting its south-east call centre.

Some 575 workers are facing the dole in 30 days after the company announced it was closing its Waterford operation.

Mr Kenny said authorities should have been given more time to determine how to handle the consequences for workers.

“They could have at least have given a signal to authorities and to Government that they were considering a change of this devastating impact, and allow for the agencies to look around to see what can be done,” Mr Kenny 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.

The company is pulling the plug on the Waterford operation after a huge fall in customer service phone business and amid plans to outsource.

Richard Bruton, jobs minister, was briefed by TalkTalk chiefs but it is understood he was told the decision could not be reversed.

The issue was expected to be discussed by the Cabinet today.

It takes the level of redundancies in the city to more than 2,000 in the last three years, creating the worst unemployment blackspot in the country.

Amid criticism that enterprise chiefs in IDA Ireland were not doing enough to attract industry to the south-east, IDA chief Barry O’Leary said they could not insist that companies set up base in certain locations.

“We cannot force them to go, but we do try and incentivise them,” he said.

He said Waterford was a gateway city but there is huge international competition among countries to attract foreign direct investment.

Mr Bruton had urged management to consider giving workers, IDA and government more time to find a new business for the facility.

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.

Roy Hassey, an organiser with Unite, said workers at TalkTalk should be treated fairly by a company that is making massive profits.

He claimed TalkTalk increased its profits in the year to end March from £11m (€12.5m) to £57m (€65m).

“Three months ago, 45 workers were made redundant, receiving four weeks’ salary per year of service,” he said.

“In 2010, a total of 20 workers received packages of seven weeks pay per year of service.

“It would be wrong of a company who has benefited from the hard work of local people to walk away now from its moral obligation to treat its workers fairly.

“Unite is calling on TalkTalk to table a fair redundancy package to the workers who have served the company diligently over the years.”

Bishop of Waterford and Lismore, William Lee, said he was deeply saddened by the job losses and asked that special prayers be said at Masses throughout the diocese over the weekend for the intentions of the employees and their families.

“This is a severe blow to the employees in Waterford, their families and will have a devastating impact on the regional economy of the Southeast,” he said.

“This shocking announcement not only directly affects TalkTalk workers but, in addition, it jeopardises local ancillary jobs which have been created since the company opened and which rely for survival on the pay-spend of the workers.

“During these difficult times I am praying for everybody and especially those whose livelihoods are directly affected by this decision.”

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