Telkom extends voluntary staff severance offer
Fixed-line operator Telkom has extended its voluntary severance packages (VSPs) and voluntary early retirement packages (VERPs) to all staff - both non-unionised and unionised - despite unions objecting to the offer being made to their members.
"The decision to offer VSPs and VERPs to all staff, including unionised employees, is not one we took lightly. We did so not only in the best interest of the business, but also in response to our people," says Jacqui O'Sullivan, managing executive of group communication at Telkom.
"Many Telkom employees have expressed a desire to take a VSP or VERP and to pursue a new path, outside of the company. We have carefully considered the demand by organised labour to withdraw the initial invitations for non-unionised employees to apply for packages and we cannot agree to this."
Solidarity, the Communication Workers Union and the South African Communication Union, which together represent around 60% of Telkom staff, last week not only wanted the company to withdraw the offer to non-unionised workers, but also objected to plans to extend the packages to unionised staff.
Solidarity spokesperson Marius Croucamp said Telkom needs to first brief the unions on some aspects related to the packages, so they could, in turn, consult with their members and advise them accordingly.
However, O'Sullivan says Telkom has received hundreds of applications from unionised employees and cannot ignore them. "We believe that organised labour's refusal to allow the invitation to be extended to union members is unreasonable, unfair and highly prejudicial to those union members.
"For that reason, Telkom has decided to extend the invitation to apply for VSPs and VERPs to all employees, including union members, with immediate effect. Their applications will be considered on the same basis as applications from employees who are non-union members," she says.
O'Sullivan adds Telkom believes it has acted in a fair and reasonable manner in extending the invitation for union members to also apply for VSPs and VERPs.
Telkom's push to trim staff by offering the packages is part of its organisation-wide restructuring process. It comes after a Labour Court ruling on 8 July, which ordered the company to halt the retrenchment of about 4 400 workers, pending the resolution of a dispute with trade unions related to information sharing.
Following the interdict, Telkom chose to withdraw the entire Section 189 process and initiate fresh discussions with organised labour, on alternate cost containment options.
At the same time, Telkom opened voluntary severance packages and voluntary early retirement packages to non-unionised staff. The company wrote to organised labour and requested permission from the unions to extend the invitation to their members within Telkom.
"Telkom met with organised labour on 21 July in an attempt to secure permission from organised labour to extend the VSP and VERP offer to unionised Telkom employees. No progress was made," says O'Sullivan.
Telkom offered to meet again and agreed to a request by organised labour for group CEO Sipho Maseko to attend.
The meeting took place last Thursday and, once again, despite long and robust discussions, no agreement was reached, explains O'Sullivan. "The unions refused to allow their members access to the voluntary packages."
She says Telkom has been steadily receiving applications for VSPs and VERPs since the invitation was offered to non-unionised staff, almost two weeks ago. Telkom's leadership has approved 96.3% of the applications received.
The closing date for applications remains today, at 17h00.