News : Victoria Surprised as Tasmania Handed Qantas Call Centre Jobs
May 28, 2014 -- The federal government is playing the states against one another by using incentives to draw Qantas call centre jobs from Melbourne to Tasmania, a senior Victorian government minister says.
About 450 Qantas call centre jobs will be lost in Brisbane and Melbourne, with Hobart the new national base for the airline’s customer contact business after the southern state threw millions of dollars in incentives to the troubled carrier.
The Brisbane call centre, which employs about 200 people will be closed in 2016, while its Melbourne operation, which employs about 250 people, will close by mid-2015, the carrier announced.
Victorian Planning Minister Matthew Guy said his federal Coalition counterparts had offered incentives to lure the call centre jobs to Tasmania. "It’s utterly unhelpful for the federal government to be assisting Tasmania to move jobs out of Victoria to Tassie," Mr Guy told reporters today.
"We put an offer on the table and it’s very much a sad fact that it wasn’t supported, but this government will do everything we can to support Victorian jobs, whether it’s through infrastructure projects, whether it’s through planning law changes to allow greater economic activity, we will do what we can.
"But we don’t like the idea of the feds taking sides in a state-by-state battle." He said Victoria had a bid on the table worth millions of dollars to keep the jobs in Melbourne.
Tasmania is understood to have thrown millions at the carrier to hold on to its business. There is speculation the Abbott government aided Tasmania in its bid to hold on to the call centre business.
Employees in the Brisbane and Melbourne call centres will be offered redeployment to Hobart, where the airline will base its call centre operations in a single facility by 2016.
The union which represents call centre workers has vowed to fight the moveto shut down centres in Melbourne and Brisbane.
Australian Services Union assistant national secretary Linda White described the decision to consolidate its three Australian call centres in Tasmania a "crazy brave stupid decision’’.
"And if they think the ASU is going to sit back and not fight this, they’ve got another think coming,’’ Ms White said. "This is offshoring via Hobart pretty much.’’
Ms White said Jetstar had more than 1000 jobs offshore in five call centres in Japan, China and Philippines and a review of call centres had not looked at these or a call centre in Auckland.
She said the trend in the US was to bring call centres back onshore to improve customer service.
She said most of the Melbourne and Brisbane jobs would not be transferred to Hobart and "anybody who thinks that has basically swallowed the Koolaid’’.
The move comes as the airline is attempting to reduce costs over three years and as technology has reduced the volume of calls by half since 2005.
Qantas Domestic chief executive officer Lyell Strambi said operating three call centres in different states was not efficient.
"We are facing some of the toughest conditions Qantas has ever seen, which means we have to look at ways to become more efficient and remain competitive,’’ Mr Strambi said in a statement.
"Having call centres in three different states presents a number of challenges including property costs, duplication of management and operational complexity.’’
There has been a massive decline in the number of people contacting call centres. Travellers increasingly prefer to book flights online with call volumes having halved since 2005.
Mr Strambi said consolidating three Australian call centres into one location would ensure Qantas continued to provide the level of customer service people expect, as well as deliver significant cost savings for the business.
"We are proud that we answer calls from Australia, in Australia, but it is not efficient to have three sub-scale facilities,’’ he said.
Employees who choose not to move interstate and remain employed until the closure of their centre will be provided redundancy packages.
"These are decisions we make in full knowledge of the impact on our people, but also the need to protect thousands of Australian jobs across the Qantas Group by taking action to strengthen our company,’’ Mr Strambi said.
The announcement does not impact Qantas’ New Zealand call centre operation which has operated for more than 10 years and mostly handles calls from English speaking customers from outside of Australia.
Victoria is believed to be concerned the Abbott government has been helping Tasmania at the expense of the two eastern seaboard Coalition states, with both preparing to contest elections in a tight jobs market.
The review into the call centres was part of the airline’s cost reduction program and any job losses will be part of the 5000 already announced. The airline decided that it was no longer economic to run three Australian call centres, leading to separate lease and property costs.
The airline is not considering sending any of the call centre work to Asia but believes that changing customer habits — including website use and mobile phones — mean that fewer call centres are needed.
Sources indicated that Victoria was surprised by Qantas’s "excessive’’ financial demands and its determination to push ahead with the consolidation of its call centre operations in Tasmania.
Former Tasmanian Premier Lara Giddings had floated payroll tax incentives and had ordered the state’s Office of Economic Development to offer an incentives package to save about 300 jobs in Tasmania.
The troubled airline decided in January to completely withdraw Qantas mainline flights from Tasmania, leaving the island to its QantasLink regional subsidiary.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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