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Telkom flooded with voluntary retrenchment requests

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Telkom says it has provided all staff with access to the details of voluntary retrenchment packages on offer, despite only non-unionised members being eligible for these.
Telkom says it has provided all staff with access to the details of voluntary retrenchment packages on offer, despite only non-unionised members being eligible for these.

Telkom says it has been flooded with requests for staff to take advantage of voluntary retrenchment packages put on the table by the telco this week.

"In the past 48 hours, Telkom has been inundated with requests from unionised employees who wish to view and apply for the packages," says Telkom managing executive for group communication, Jacqui O'Sullivan. This as Telkom continues to battle with unions over how to continue its turnaround strategy without instituting forced retrenchments.

"In light of these many requests, Telkom has, this morning, opened the system for all employees to view," says O'Sullivan.

Telkom CEO Sipho Maseko announced on Monday that the telco would abandon a process of forced retrenchments for over 4 000 staff and instead offer non-unionised employees voluntary severance packages (VSP) and voluntary early retirement packages (VERP). Telkom added it would only extend the offer to unionised staff after consultations with unions.

Earlier today, Solidarity's head of communications industry Marius Croucamp alleged unionised members received letters this morning offering them the same voluntary packages that non-unionised members were offered on Monday. He called this a "complete breach of trust" as unions were not consulted beforehand.

O'Sullivan denied the allegation, stating the only staff communique sent out was a letter this afternoon from Telkom chief of HR, Thami Msubo, which reiterated that packages cannot be offered to employees who are currently members of a union.

"Telkom will not process applications made by any employee who is currently a member of a union," adds O'Sullivan.

Unionised vs non-unionised

Solidarity, the Communication Workers Union and the South African Communication Union together represent around 60% of Telkom staff, while the rest remain un-unionised.

O'Sullivan says at the start of the week, Telkom issued a letter to the three unions inviting any union which may wish to have their members included in the VSP and VERP process, to provide written confirmation of this to Telkom.

If unions do not consent, they could see members opt to leave the union in order to take a package. Croucamp says the union has already had a number of applications to de-register from the union following Telkom's announcement on Monday.

Telkom says if employees choose to resign from unions, they will be able to access the VSP and VERP offers but their application will only be processed after a 30-day notice period to the union has expired.

"If an employee is no longer a union member, the employee needs to notify Telkom's HR division with confirmation of this."

Ongoing battle

Last week, the Labour Court ruled in favour of Solidarity and ordered Telkom to halt its planned retrenchments of around 4 400 workers. The court also ordered that trade unions refer a dispute to the Commission for Reconciliation, Mediation and Arbitration, which Croucamp says they have done. Telkom says it plans to follow through with this process.

Telkom claims it has no option but to continue with its business transformation strategy, including cutting costs by at least R1 billion a year going forward, if it is to ensure its sustainability over the long term. The telco is looking at other cost containment options, including a wage freeze that would include the CEO and all management. It is also looking at implementing reduced or flexible working hours, new methodologies to improve productivity, and potential outsourcing options.

Croucamp says in terms of a collective agreement, Telkom is obliged to consult with trade unions before a wage freeze or changes to working hours can be implemented. He adds that should Telkom wish to outsource any staff, the matter first has to be discussed with trade unions at its Restructuring Forum.

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