Trade unions have responded with vehemence towards news that telecommunications (telecoms) provider Telkom would again be offering voluntary separation packages, this time to trade union members, but Telkom emphasised that it was not retrenching employees.
“The word ‘severance’ used by Solidarity is misleading as it gives the impression that Telkom is laying people off (retrenchment). Telkom did not consult organised labour about retrenchments on Tuesday - the whole discussion was about ‘voluntary separation packages’ that the company intends to offer to its bargaining unit employees who may voluntarily want to take them,” the company explained.
Solidarity stated that Telkom said it would not give reasons for accepting applications for packages, nor would it negotiate with unions on the content of the packages. “The process is therefore not transparent and discrimination on the basis of race and gender is a real possibility,” said Solidarity spokesperson Marius Croucamp.
Telkom said that the company was “mindful of the fact that a transparent process will be followed with clearly defined criteria”.
The Communications Workers Union (CWU) said that, as a matter of principle, it would discourage workers to take Telkom’s voluntary severance packages.
“CWU regards this move by Telkom as pursuance of the neo-liberal agenda that is repugnant to everything that the ANC-led tripartite alliance stands for around the issue of job creation,” emphasised the union.
Solidarity explained that the packages would take effect on April 1, which was a day after the expiry of an agreement concluded in 2009 between trade unions and Telkom, in terms of which, employees job security was guaranteed until March 31, 2011.
The telecoms giant came under particularly sharp criticism from the unions as the company has recently been under the spotlight for irregularities at the top management level.
“South Africans are still reeling from recent allegations that the entity is encircled by a lot of corruption, nepotism, bribery and fraud by its top management,” reiterated the CWU.
“It does not make sense to get rid of skilled employees to the detriment of service delivery,” Croucamp said.
Telkom stated that voluntary packages were offered to management in 2010, and now a similar offer was being made to trade union members within the company.
For the half-year ended September 2010, Telkom said 186 managerial employees accepted the packages, at a cost of R144-million.
The benefits of the reduction in employee expenses on Telkom’s financial statements were expected in the second half of the 2011 financial year.
During the same six months, Telkom said that employee expenses increased by 8,5% owing to higher salaries and wages as a result of average yearly salary increases, as well as workforce reduction expenses of R103 million incurred for management employees, partially offset by lower headcount.