Telstra announced last week the closing of their Grafton call centre in northern NSW, with a loss of 108 jobs. These decisions have significant impact on regional towns. There of course is a multiplier impact of the 108 jobs that makes the employment losses even more significant in Grafton and neighbouring towns. By way of of disclosure, I grew up down the river from Grafton in a town called Yamba, and went to high school in Grafton. I have family in Yamba, and close friends in the Clarence Valley. I am sure I am at most 2 degrees of separation from people who are impacted by the decision.
Clearly and without emotion, Telstra has to rationalise their business and job cuts are an essential but clearly unpopular aspect of this, regionally or in Sydney and Melbourne. Telstra always struggle to win the PR war with head office decisions that have material impact locally. It seems they do not learn, or perhaps are cynical about the news cycle of regional centres media and political processes.
Fed no doubt by the parochial local newspaper and radio, the local community has arranged a petition to boycott Telstra. I believe that they are up to 6,000 signatures. Regional mayors in towns such as Coffs Harbour and Lismore have also come out publically against the decision. Clearly they are acting in self interest on the premise, that if Grafton is not safe, they are not safe.
The timing is also unfortunate for Telstra, the federal members for Page and Cowper were invited to a cocktail party in Canberra the same day the cuts were announced. It then becomes a rallying cry for politicians to selectively put the heat on big business. Many people in regional areas will still equate Telstra with “government” despite owning shares in the Telco.
Bottom line, Telstra has to make hard decisions with disproportionate impacts on specific centres Clearly there is further work to be done by large regional employers such as Telstra with the federal and state governments to ensure regional development is improved to maintain investment in centres throughout Australia that are in a similar situation to Grafton.
Telstra will never win these PR battles unless they are able to demonstrate a more “human” side in local communities. It might have short term costs, but long term benefits are real if they are to engage local communities moving forward.