As from April next year, New Zealanders will find their enquiries to Yellow Pages being answered by a call centre in Manila in the Philippines. The company that owns the call centre has a dubious track record, including running a Manila sweatshop.

In late November it was announced that 110 Palmerston North workers would be losing their jobs after the call centre Sitel lost the Yellow Pages contract to Teletech, an American-based outsource company.

Teletech is transferring the Yellow Pages call centre work to Manila in the Philippines where wages are much lower.

The Engineering, Printing and Manufacturers Union hierarchy, a docile and complaint lot, has done little other than issue a few press statements and speculate about sacked workers being accommodated in other jobs elsewhere.

Of the parliamentary parties it was only the Maori Party that had anything substantial to say on the matter.

"Teletech's decision to outsource its call-centre to the Philippines is another disaster for the state of this country's economy, as well as for this country's first language," said Hone Harawira, the Maori Party Spokesperson for Communications.

He went on to say:

"One month out from Christmas, and a hundred Teletech workers in Palmerston North have just been told their jobs will be gone come April next year.Some Christmas for those poor buggers - it's no wonder people are heading over the ditch.

This government's ability to lose jobs to overseas markets seems to be matched only by their ability to lose workers to overseas countries.'

Harawira also was concerned about call centre workers in Manila not adequately understanding New Zealand culture and, in particular, Maori place names.

'I'm on the road a lot and I use 018 to help find people, and I've always been really impressed, and quietly proud too as a matter of fact, about just how quickly Kiwi operators respond to queries about Maori names and Maori places,"Teletech reckons that their Filipino operators speak 'good American-English', but that won't mean a thing in a country where people speak Kiwi-English and there are literally thousands of Maori names in everyday use.'

The destruction of the New Zealand jobs followed the sacking of 224 Telstra workers in Australia in October.

Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) national secretary Stephen Jones said Telstra managers had been secretly in the Philippines assisting Teletech to set up the new operation.

"(The sacked workers) are the people who work in customer service support dealing with your bill problems, dealing with services, dealing with problems with contractors and sales support,' Jones said.

"We have concerns with the quality of the service (overseas workers) will provide and issues with information sent offshore that certainly will not be under the jurisdiction of Australian law."

Teletech first expanded into the Philippines in 2001 attracted by the low wage levels or what its chairman Kenneth Tuchman has described as a 'environment that is highly conducive to growth.'

It is now the biggest business process outsourcing (BPO) company operating in the Philippines with the number of employees expected to reach 30,000 by next year.

Although Teletech's glossy advertising would like you to believe otherwise, it is widely regarded as a bad employer. Indeed there are a number of Internet sites in which present and former employees of Teletech outline the problems they are having with a company that had a turnover of $US1 billion in 2004.

Stories of unjustified dismissals, anti-union strategies, attempts to cut wages, etc abound. Teletech is rarely out of court, with ex-employees suing the company for among other things, the non payment of wages and harassment.

In his book The Culture of New Capitalism, Richard Sennet writes

At call center companies such as AmTech and TeleTech, call centre companies to whom many corporations outsource their “customer relations management,” agents must follow a script displayed on their computer screens, spelling out the exact conversation, word for word, they must follow in their dealings with customers. Monitoring devices track every fact of their work: minutes spent per call, minutes spent going to the bathroom. At the same time managers can speed up or reconfigure this digital assembly line simply by throwing a switch and reprogramming the software-specifying less time per call and between calls-much as Henry Ford controlled the line at his Detroit plants in the 1920s.

Is it little wonder that Teletech has such a high turnover of staff that it is constantly seeking new workers? In fact its own internal documents assume that most Teletech workers will not stay in the job for more than two years.

And Teletech's dubious practices extend beyond call centres.

In August the US current affairs show Dan Rather Reports revealed that America's computer voting machines are being assembled in a Manila sweatshop. Workers earn between $2.15 and $2.50 a day in a factory where the temperature sometimes soars above 32 degrees Celsius (90 degrees Fahrenheit).

It turns out that Election Systems & Software, one of the top voting machine companies in the United States contracts Teletech to assemble the voting machines in its Manila sweatshop.

This sweatshop also has connections with a company called Pivot International. Pivot is a contract engineering firm based in Kansas that is controlled by the Ching family, a Filipino family with "strong connections in top political circles" and that has been investigated for suspect business practices and possible tax evasion.

Teletech has a number of contracts with New Zealand firms including Telecom and Meridian Energy.


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