Bruton calls for TalkTalk delay

 

The Government this evening increased pressure on TalkTalk management to delay closing its Waterford operation after claiming the 30-day deadline was abrupt and unfair.

As 575 workers and management held talks over redundancy terms, Minister for Jobs Richard Bruton said enterprise chiefs have been ordered to search for an alternative company to fill the complex.

Mr Bruton - who will meet staff, management and local politicians on Monday - said TalkTalk was considering his request to put back the closure. “This decision to close within 30 days, I think is too abrupt. It’s not fair to people,” he said.

“We need to see the opportunity for IDA to search for alternatives, and I repeat the request now that the company gives more time so that we can turn over every stone and make sure that we give this facility and the workers there a chance of finding replacement employment.”

However, a spokesman for TalkTalk said it intends to “stick to” its 30-day timetable but is open to suggestions or opportunities from the minister and IDA.

“We said all along we would be delighted if another firm was able to come in and take the site over and we will assist the IDA and any other agency with all the information they need for prospective parties,” he added.

The Government had earlier expressed its dissatisfaction at the manner in which the TalkTalk call centre handled the closure of its site in Waterford with the loss of 575 jobs.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the failure of the company to provide adequate notice to the Government had deprived State employment agencies the required time to look for alternatives.

“They could have at least have given a signal to authorities and to the 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 today.

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore was also critical of the short notice given to the plant's employees after they told yesterday the plant would shut within a month. "I have to say that I am not at all happy and I know my Government colleagues are not at all happy about the way in which this was handled by the company and the very, very short notice that was given to the staff,” the Tánaiste said this morning.

"Immediately, what we are doing is the Minister for Jobs and Enterprise Richard Bruton is addressing the needs of the people who are losing their jobs there and the IDA and the State agencies will be working very urgently to try and get replacement jobs in Waterford and in the south east.”

Mr Gilmore said a number of options were being examined to help the employees of the UK-owned firm. "We will continue every effort to see what can be done to try and rescue some of these jobs and to retain them," he said. "The loss of this number of jobs in any part of the country is huge; huge for the people who lose the jobs, huge for the local economy and huge for the businesses and other people whose jobs are linked to the enterprise of Waterford."

In a statement today, Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton said her department contacted the human resources department in TalkTalk this morning. "Representatives from my department and Fás will meet with the employer tomorrow morning, with a view to quickly bringing necessary services to their employees at this difficult time," she said.

Amid criticism that IDA Ireland was not doing enough to attract industry to the southeast, IDA chief executive Barry O’Leary said they could not insist companies set up base in certain locations.

"There are many instances of us putting quite substantial incentives on the table where they would get nothing in Dublin or Cork but could in a project get a couple of million maybe, depending on the scale, in Waterford," he said.

"Yet they will walk away from that . . . they cannot be forced. Sometimes the incentivisation does work. The reality is that it's companies that make the choice. I wish it was in the power of IDA to say we are now allocating these two projects to a certain area, but that does not happen."

Mr O'Leary said the IDA only learned that TalkTalk intended to pull out of Waterford at about 9.30am yesterday, just hours before it briefed staff.

“These business events are unfortunately part of economic life,” he said. “It happens in every country, but it was the way this one was handled in particular, literally saying yesterday afternoon that in four weeks everybody is gone. That doesn't give a great chance to bring somebody in.

“If you're trying to attract somebody into a building you can imagine that if it's working and the place is buzzing they say 'my goodness'. If you bring them to an empty building with nobody there, it's more difficult to sell.”

Employees learned of the news when they were called to a meeting at the plant yesterday afternoon, although rumours of the job losses had emerged earlier in the day. Local management told staff the company was closing its Waterford operation which provides support for its British customers.

TalkTalk Group issued a statement saying the decision was on foot of a 40 per cent reduction in its call centre business over the past year as more of its five million customers opted to deal with them online.

Last June, TalkTalk announced it had selected global services providers Wipro and Transcom as outsourcing partners, and both will take over a portion of the Waterford business. The remainder will be transferred to TalkTalk’s British sites.

The company, which globally employs about 3,500 directly, has been in Waterford since 2008, when it acquired AOL. At one stage, TalkTalk employed more than 700 people in Waterford.

The firm said the closure of the Waterford site would allow it to reduce the complexity of its operation, simplify its skills set and bring benefits to its customers as quickly as possible while also limiting its exposure to exchange rate fluctuations involving the euro.

“It is important to emphasise that this proposal in no way reflects on the Waterford team’s performance and commitment. They have shown huge dedication and care in serving our customers over the years,” the company said in its statement.

A TalkTalk spokeswoman said the issue of redundancy terms would form part of consultations between the workers – who are not unionised – and the company over the next 30 days.

News of the closure was greeted with shock locally in Waterford.

Trade union Unite said the company must treat its workers properly. “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,” said organiser Roy Hassey.

Waterford Chamber of Commerce president Anne Marie Caulfield said news of the closure was “a very big shock” to the people of Waterford and the southeast, especially as it brings to about 3,000 the number of jobs lost in the region in the past four years.

Additional reporting PA