Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Telstra has a lot to answer the phone for

In light of the Telstra former chief, Sol Trujillo's comments where he said:

  • "Australia is racist, backward and like stepping back in time."

    "My point is that [racism] does exist and it's got to change because the world is full of a lot of people and most economies have to take advantage - including Australia - of a diverse set of people."

    "If there is a belief that only a certain people are acceptable versus others, that is a sad state."

This outburst followed Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's "Adios,'' as Mexican-born Sol's departed from Telstra and Australia's shore, calling Rudd's language as racist.

I think, for all those that attack he tenure at the head of Telstra, really need to look at a bigger picture, one of the corporatisation of many large businesses, including the telecommunications giant. This has often signaled their downfall, as it has with NewsLTD in terms of a personal relationship their customers and staff.

I strongly encourage anyone interested in the darker side of business evolution over the last 20 years, take in The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power. Writer Joel Bakan considers the modern corporation as a class of person and evaluated its behaviour towards society, as a psychologist might evaluate a person.

Many comparisons are even valid for our own Cairns Regional Council, where the corporate chiefs and culture have little respect for the ratepayers. This often extends to elected Councillors. I've experienced the wrath of senior Council staff in the media and communications unit, where folk like Sonja Anderson and Kerie Hull appear to have little understanding about what it means to be a public servant.

You'll all have you hate stories about dealing with a large business, from being put on hold to simply not treating you as their most important asset.

So here's a relevant story, a true story, which deserves reflection. It's a story from a Telstra employee.

  • Stephanie was a pretty, lithe teenager with the type of athletic body shape most women could only dream about. Home movies of her shown in the backyard swimming pool reveal a pretty, laughing girl full of fun and mischief and absolutely stunning in a yellow bikini.

    When Stephanie was seventeen, she left high school and secured an administrative position with Telecom Australia. Her parents were delighted that their daughter had secured a "safe Government" job.

    "You'll never have to work in your life," her father told her jovially.

    Stephanie worked hard in her entry level administrative position and climbed up to an Administrative Service Officer, Class 3 by the time she was 21. She was happy in her job and proud of her achievements.

    Then Telecom corporatised and became Telstra. Those were some anxious days for Stephanie, wondering if her position was safe or not.

    However, she was given an option. To take an early redundancy package or to transfer to Brisbane and become a Callcentre Operator with the new Telstra.

    Stephanie decided she would move to "the big smoke" and eagerly moved her few possessions to a flat in Indooroopilly.

    The Call centre was different from the processing and client service position she had in the Far North. She had no physical contact with people off the street, and she had lost all her friends when she made the move to Brisbane.

    Stephanie was lonely and stressed out. She turned to food as a comfort. Soon her lithe body blossomed and kept on blossoming.

    She struggled with her job, seeking counselling services and having long phone conversations with her Mother who assured her that she needed to "stick it through" because "things would get better".

    However, it was never better. As a Call centre operator, she found her supervisor and others higher up in the hierarchy listening in on her calls, and she was frequently taken into a room and given lectures over what she said or might have said or should have said. Then Telstra advised the call centre staff they had to sell products and each person would be given a target of sales per month.

    Stephanie struggled with this, sometimes making up the sales quota by selling herself or her sisters, a new mobile phone. Work became a frightening drudge. She eagerly welcomed the week-ends and dreaded Monday mornings.

    Then calls were timed, and Stephanie found herself being cut off while answering client enquiries.

    The work environment became toxic with some of the weaker staff turning into tale-bearers and spying on the staff.

    Stephanie found she could cope with all the new stressors by having a couple of drinks of white wine at home at night. Over a frighteningly short period of time, she found she was drinking a full cask of white wine a night.

    Her weight continued to balloon. After a few years, she was 110 kgs. The lithe, athletic body was gone. In place was this bloated, liquid filled balloon like figure.
    Even her delicate pretty facial features had disappeared, pulled out of shape and around the balloon shaped face.

    She had no friends, so she bought several dogs home from the RSPCA refuge, once she had bought herself a modest weatherboard cottage. She lavished attention on them.

    Her Mother fretted she didn't hear from Stephanie enough. Stephanie told her she had a very active social life.

    Stephanie's Mum passed away suddenly and relatives were shocked at Stephanie's morbidly overweight appearance. At the funeral she assured people she was on a medically supervised dieting regime.

    She went back to Brisbane, and kept in touch with her ailing father, who had suffered a debilitating heart attack following the death of his wife.

    Sometime following this, Stephanie was given a redundancy package and made to take the early retirement. She was only 42. She did not tell her father or sisters.

    No-one knows what happened exactly. We know that her neighbours became very concerned one day at hearing howling dogs locked inside her home, and hearing them scratch away at the front door.

    One neighbour phoned the RSPCA who visited the home, and who forced the door open.

    The dogs burst outside, ravenously hungry.

    The RSPCA officer nervously walked inside the dirty, untidy home, and quickly smelt a strong odour. He phoned the Police.

    Inside, the police found the remains of Stephanie. Her dogs had almost devoured every bit of flesh on her body. To obtain a positive identification, her ailing father was approached to give a sample of DNA.

    Stephanie is buried today at the Townsville Crematorium. I go there once a year and say Hello to her. She was my late husband's cousin.

    Stephanie's story is just one of many terrible stories emerging after the corporatisation of Telstra.

23 comments:

CBD Warrior said...

So we're blaming "Stephanie's" mentally ill condition on Telstra?

Quite a stretch.

But then again, people love to blame all their problems on others.

Blogster said...

I hate to say this, but I agree with CBD Warrior.

It's a sad story, but to insinuate that Telstra (or the privatisition thereof) is responsible for this is bit much.

Brenda of Brinsmead said...

The corporate culture you describe of Telstra is not unique to that organisation. It is the 22nd century culture of Australia itself. And it developed because WE permitted it. Governments (of all tiers and persuasions) fell over themselves to privatise (sell off) publicly owned assets; airlines, banks, electricity, water, public transport, and millions of ordinary people bought, ironically, what they already previously owned. Wealth became the end instead of the means and history will judge it as one of the biggest cons of all times.

Alison Alloway said...

Four Corners did a story on the working conditions of "Telstra" about two years ago. The story concerned the suicides of two Telstra employees. Staff interviewed provided a picture of a toxic work environment. Within a week of the story appearing on the 4 Corners website, there were over 700 comments from, presumeably Telstra employees confirming the frightening work conditions. It is the highest number of comments ever in response to any Four Corners program.
In trying to understand why Stephanie did not take more control of her own life, it needs acknowledging that it is difficult for some people to step out of a secure job, take a risk, and look for something different. People who work in bullying cultures often develop low self-esteem and a fearful outlook on life. This is particularly the case with gentle, soft, non-assertive people as Stephanie was.

nocturnal congress said...

Yeah well Blogster and CBD Warrior probably wouldn't be required to "tell their Supervisor that they have a period or are pregnant" which some Callcentres demand of their poor bloody staff, mostly young women.
Callcentres are the new "workhouses". Not since Victorian times have employees endured such draconian monitoring ("Your call is being monitored...") of performance, lack of autonomy, lack of physical movement in that they are wired up in a tiny cubicle all day long, and the sheer stress of answering hundreds of calls within a set time frame.
Christ, go and visit one of these monstrosities...and tell me if you think they are different from the battery hen style chook farms.
No wonder the poor bitch ended up like a swamp elephant!

colinwhodares said...

TO say say that telstra did not contribute to her condition is one of the silliest things I have read .
I worked for centrelink call centre , and all that happened to that girl happens still today .
So the quick to judge comment bloggers should not shoot from the lip.
You are monitored by staff openly and covertly and if you know anyone at cairns call centre ask them about the crying room.
Forty three of us started I got down to the final seven after three months , four got permanent positions and I believe only one is still there !

Alison Alloway said...

Colin, tell us about the "crying room" or better still, write up a report on your experience there and send to Mike.

Blogster said...

For your information, I worked at a call center for one of the world's biggest computer / information systems makers. I did this for more than a year. My (inbound) calls were monitored and timed all the time. The computer program Call Center Management (in my time, it was version 2) is unforgiving. Calls were random and involved plenty of complaints.

So I DO have some idea of what it is like to work at a call centre. Probably better than some of those who attacked me here.

I did not say that the working conditions may not have contributed to the poor girl's situation, however, to blame Telstra solely for this, in my view goes too far. The story (and the the girl) is more complex than that.

If this case study is your best argument against, what it seems to be really about, privatisation, then I think it is a very weak argument. I see no reason, why this culture could not have developed if the company was still under government control. I would say that there's plenty of bullying and (peer-)pressure within lots of government organisations too.

Keith Martin said...

I'm sorry Mike, but this bizarre story has all the hallmarks of an urban myth.

As far as I can determine, there have been two genuine cases of suicide attributed to working for Telstra - linesman Leon Dousset and call centre worker Sally Sandic. They were the subject of a Four Corners program in 2007.

Neither of those cases fits the gory details of your story. If you have any evidence that a Telstra employee named Stephanie really did become an overweight alchoholic whose dead body was eaten by dogs, then please point us to it. Otherwise, get rid of this story.

colinwhodares said...

Ok allison here goes
Forty three of us were recruited to cover a busy period and from the first day on the floor ,after two days of intensive training we were answering calls from customers.
It was pointed out to us that there was a room available "THE CRYING ROOM THEY CALLED IT" in the corner to use as a place to go to if you had a distressing call.
But we saw more people use it from some of the actions of the management.
If you were seconds late you got a warning, if you laughed you were in trouble, too long in the "john " warning.
I never ever was late or was warned.
Nearly every day someone from our pods was evicted just like big brother evictions , except there was no announcement , you just got to work the next morning and asked where the person next to you was and were told they were not coming back.
We were all listened to new and old ,either by someone sitting beside you ,or covertly by someone in the call centre or in another centre.
But everyday you went home hoping the phone did not ring and tell you are finished , you also hoped the new friend you made at work would be there the next day.
We were very competent at our jobs ,after 3 months, but still had to apply through a recruitment agency for permanent positions , if you were late 20s to early 30s you romped a job in we saw none over that age interviewed.
We sat within 20 feet of where the 2nd interviews were held and saw the whole interview process , all young pretty things ,one very large girl went up for her 2nd interview and she was gone in 3 minutes,
my stats were amongst the best over the 3 months and won two awards , yet never got past stage 1 of the interview , am I pissed after reading cbd warrior and the next post you bet I AM they have no idea what it is like in a call centre.

nocturnal congress said...

Whoever said this case WAS A BEST ARGUMENT against corporatisation? "Stephanie's story is just ONE OF THE MANY TERRIBLE STORIES...."
How about the drop in customer service standards and the growing lack of TRANSPARENCY as other reasons. (Does lack of "tranparency" ring a bell, hmmm??) How about the grossly inflated salaries of CEOs, and the outsourcing of more and more industries. Lastly, how about the expectation that the taxpayer will bail the corporation out if need be?

Alison Alloway said...

Keith Martin, Stephanie is a true case. She was my husband's cousin. She grew up in Townsville.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Alison Alloway said...

Colin, from what you have said, it looks like the employment conditions have disappeared. Prior to corporatisation, public service employment rules stipuated new staff were inducted and placed on probation for three months. At the end of that probation your employment could be terminated, the period of probation extended, or you could be confirmed. I was a probationer trainer and new starters were given much more training than "two days"!!!!

Alison Alloway said...

Blogster, no-one said Stephanie's decline and untimely death was the sole result of Telstra's work environment. If you cough it doesn't mean you have swine flu.
However, her work environment CONTRIBUTED to her unhappiness.

Rob Williams said...

I like Mexican Food. Didnt realize that Sol was a Mex. Nothing racist in that I just thought he was another high flyer that was going to rip us off. I was right. Not only that he has an inferiority complex. I have a TI mate, he doesnt have to keep telling me he's black!
Telstra belonged to the people, the Feds sold it. Anna is about to sell off our farms too. Anyone want some shares in the Sydney Harbour Bridge?

Cairns resident said...

Alison we were temps ,I was a site convenor for the ANWU in Victoria for 7 yrs I am aware of employement conditions thanks for the comment though ,we had 2 days training on the budget ,1 day on putting people on benefits , in victoria we would say we were overtrained hhhaaa

Another call centre worker said...

Colin, that is simply dreadful, yet it confirms what I have heard from Centrelink Callcentre staff.
Young staff are recruited because they are easily controlled and exploited. Young women are preferred because younger women do not unionise as a general rule.
I have heard too, that Callcentre staff are "allocated several minutes a day, ie 8 minutes" for toilet breaks, drinks of water etc. Probably one of the most astounding and draconian rules I have heard of in the Centrelink Callcentre is the demand that women who are menstuating or pregnant "must tell their supervisors." This is an outrage!

Clifton Ratbags Rule! said...

Sol Trujillo wasn't "Mexican".

He has a Spanish surname. He was born in Wyoming.

Likewise the name "Sarkozy" is Hungarian. President Sarkozy was born in France, to Hungarian parents.

The thing that will kill this blog is what kills all blogs- lack of fact checking, and spouting everything like its "the truth".

S. Northy said...

Trujillo was born in America yes, and was of Mexican heritage. We often refer casually to someone born in Australia, but of say Italian heritage, as an "Itie". It's one of the unthinking slips of the tongue that we all do.
Trujillo will always be a "Mex" to me, and I agree with Kevin Rudd's comments, "ADIOS!" Although, frankly, I would have told him to "Piss off and don't come back."

Blog Reader Woree said...

I'm not sure what all the fuss is about. I'm of Asian heritage, if a Prime Minister tried to say "Zai jian" to me, I would have thought that he's making an effort to speak my language and to send me off with honours.

Maybe a bad example as he's fluent in Mandarin, but you get what I mean. I think Mr Trujillo has seen too many movies that provide him the negativities approach on "Adios"

Stinhambo said...

I doubt Centrelink rules would call for women to disclose their menstruation status.

It's discriminatory and contravenes Government guidelines.

nocturnal said...

Stinhambo, that came from a female Centrelink Callcentre employee.......... In most Callcentres the staff are only given a set amount of minutes "free time" away from their phones, which also must be a breach of Occupational Health & Safety.