Telstra's policy of sacking Australian call centre and technical staff and replacing them with staff in the Philippines and India is having predictable consequences, now that those countries are in coronavirus lockdown.
Telstra has launched a massive recruitment drive to support call centres and work in back-office positions across Australia.
It enlisted 1,000 temporary staff in March, and is now looking to hire another 2,500 workers. Around 19,000 have applied.
Over the past two months, lengthy outages in Wallendbeen and Stockinbingal have reportedly been caused by software and system management issues.
These issues are said to have originated from the fact that management of the Cootamundra exchange has been reliant on staff in India.
As reported by the Herald on March 27, an elderly Wallendbeen woman in poor health was desperate because her landline was not working - and it is well known that the Telstra mobile signal in Wallendbeen is intermittent, at best.
For this lady, calling Telstra's customer service would be futile, because the call centre in the Philippines is not up to speed and neither is technical management out of India. A call to Telstra's customer service number, 13 22 00, yesterday resulted in a recorded message warning that due to the impact of Covid-19 on its contact centres, Telstra is "only able to provide very limited services over the phone and we cannot answer all calls".
The announcement says Telstra now has new on-line service functions which "may be able to resolve your inquiry faster", and advises how these can be found in the myTelstra app or at the website.
Telecom workers in the Philippines are paid at rates as low as $300 a month, but even at that rate the centres have been understaffed, limiting Telstra's ability to log faults.
One Wallendbeen resident attempting to log a fault has had to wait in the order of three hours, on two occasions, to get through.
"Sometimes calls can drop out after an hour or more," the resident said, "but you have to persevere because if you don't, no fault is logged and no action is taken.
"The problem is made worse by the fact that their on-line testing and reporting capability is also hardly working. The result is that Telstra don't know how bad it is, as reports are not getting through."
The customer service recorded message has some good news: Telstra is not charging late payment fees for overdue accounts between March 19 and April 30, and will not be disconnecting customers during this period. There are also unlimited data allowances on ADSL, NBN and pre-paid consumer customers.
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