Telstra may have sacked around 2000 local call centre workers, but the telco says its still committed to generating jobs in Australia.The telco told shareholders at its annual general meeting that while about 2000 local call centre jobs have been lost, it has been offset by the creation of the same number of jobs in other fields.
Chairman Catherine Livingstone said Telstra still employs around 40,000 Australians.
"During a year in which call centre staff numbers fell, our employee numbers stayed almost exactly the same,” she told the meeting in Melbourne.
"We created around 2000 new jobs in fiscal 2012, including jobs for Australians in Asia, and in fields as varied as web design, IT, network design, and social media."
She also defended Telstra’s move to outsource some of its call centre operations to the Philippines, saying they provided the flexibility to manage call volumes and were held to the same standards of customer service, privacy and security as their Australian counterparts.
However, not all shareholders agreed, with some saying overseas call centre workers often did not understand their problems.
"Telecom and Telstra are Australian icons and I believe that icons start with a sense of belonging and that’s put at risk by oversees call centres that sometimes fix the problem and sometimes don’t,” one shareholder said.
But chief executive David Thodey said the need for call centres was diminishing as an increasing number of Australians used the internet to interact with Telstra.
"Interestingly, more than 30 per cent of all interactions we have with customers are now online and that figure will be closer to 50 per cent by the end of this financial year,” he said.Mr Thodey said Telstra remained committed to improving customer service and during fiscal 2012 complaints to the ombudsman were down 26 per cent and call centre complaints down 21 per cent.
Shareholders overwhelmingly voted in favour of increasing the directors fee pool and granting Mr Thodey’s 1,391,076 performance rights in fiscal 2013, on top of his $2,650,000 fixed salary, if he met long term performance targets.
However, a few expressed concerned that Mr Thodey’s pay was too high.
"Twenty years is how long it would take the prime minister to earn what we are paying our chief executive in one year,” shareholder Bill Watson said.
Telstra also confirmed the board’s intention to pay a fully-franked dividend of 28 cents per share in 2012/13.
However, in fiscal 2014 Telstra would also return to its usual practice of considering dividends on a six month basis.
The company said it was well positioned to post incomes and earnings in the low single-digit percentages for fiscal 2013.It also expects free cashflow for the coming year to be between $4.75 billion and $5.25 billion.
Morningstar analyst Peter Warnes said Telstra’s strong cash flow and its extensive network meant it was very well placed to take advantage of growing mobile network traffic.Telstra shares closed flat at at $3.94.