The Telstra Centre at Goonellabah where 116 people are set to lose their jobs.
The Telstra Centre at Goonellabah where 116 people are set to lose their jobs. Patrick Gorbunovs

116 Telstra workers face the axe

TELSTRA workers poised to lose their jobs with the closure of the telco's Goonellabah call centre say they have been warned they could also lose their entitlements if they speak out publicly.

A total of 116 jobs are on the line after Telstra's executive director of customer service, Peter Jamieson, yesterday told staff via a video hook- up of the plan to close the centre on October 23.

The announcement was part of a move by the telco to cut 422 jobs by closing the Goonellabah call centre and down-sizing its Townsville centre.

Telstra has so far axed about 1000 jobs across Australia this year.

From 2pm, employees of the call centre started heading to Goonellabah's Hilltop Tavern to drown their sorrows.

"We don't want to comment because we could still lose our benefits," one employee said.

Another employee said they were told not to comment to the media as they could potentially lose their entitlements. No employees were prepared to be identified.

Mr Jamieson, when asked by the Northern Star about the workers' fears, denied they were told they could have their entitlements stripped from them if they spoke to the press.

Workers said there had been a mixed reaction to the closure announcement, with some people dreading the future, and others welcoming the news.

The announcement sent shockwaves around Lismore, with local politicians, unions and business groups expressing their distress at the news.

Page MP Janelle Saffin, who fought against the closure of Telstra's Grafton call centre two years ago, said she was sickened by the news.

"I was shocked and actually felt sick, to think that 116 local people were about to have their lives turned upside down," she said. "Telstra proves again that they are without heart and can abandon the country just like that.

"Back in 2010 when Telstra closed the Grafton Business Call Centre there was fears that the Goonellabah call centre also faced closure.

"Telstra insisted that they weren't going to close Goonellabah."

Page Nationals candidate Kevin Hogan said Ms Saffin and Communications Minister Steven Conroy should use the NBN to force Telstra to keep the call centre open.

"Ms Saffin likes to talk about heavy lifting, there is no more heavy lifting that needs to be done than her walking into Telstra, with Minister Stephen Conroy, point out the government has just given them $11 billion to roll out the NBN project, and state quite clearly, that the Goonellabah call centre cannot be shut," he said.

"Our community can't afford to lose 116 jobs."

Lismore Mayor Jenny Dowell said she was "devastated and gutted".

"My first concern is for the workers and their families," she said.

"It's gut-wrenchingly awful.

"This will have a major ripple effect in our community."

Lismore MP Thomas George said he was "flabbergasted and incredibly disappointed by Telstra's decision".

"There's no point in flooding our TVs with patriotic ads during the Olympics if you then go and fire the good, hard-working people who are the ones actually providing customer service," he said.

Community and Public Sector Union lead organiser, Teresa Davison, said the announcement came only a fortnight after the telco posted a $3.4 billion profit.

Ms Davison said the union's first priority was to support members through the initial shock period. After that, members may want to fight the proposal.

Mr Jamieson said the proposed closure was largely due to more people reporting problems online, a 20% reduction in call volumes during the past year and Telstra's pay TV arm, Foxtel, now taking its own calls.

"We go into a consultation period for the next three weeks about this proposal with staff and the union," he said.



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