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O2 brushed off outsourcing 'rumour' - but it's happening ... to THOUSANDS

Plus 600 call-centre bods face 'voluntary redundancies', says union

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More than 3,000 helpdesk staff at mobile network O2 will be transferred to outsourcing giant Capita and around 600 made redundant by August, according to the Communications Workers Union.

The trade union described the move as "a betrayal".

O2 owner Telefonica, meanwhile, told the Telegraph that only 2,000 positions would be outsourced and has insisted no compulsory chops would be made. Telefonica is said to be offering voluntary redundancy as part of the shakeup, which is an effort by the mobile giant to cut costs.

The Communication Workers' Union (CWU) warned of further outsourcing back in April. At the time, O2 dismissed fears that a deal was imminent as "speculation", but failed to rule out the threat - for reasons now obvious.

The trade union came out with guns blazing on the news of the outsourced helpdesk posts and the redundancies, which will affect workers in Bury, Glasgow, Leeds and Preston Brook.

O2 maintains that all its staff are being shifted to Capita and will be guaranteed two years' employment at their existing salary on Capita's payroll before the outsourcing group can make any moves - say, to offshore the whole operation, for example.

Capita will have plenty of time to do that, should it decide labour is cheaper elsewhere, as its existing 20-year contract with O2 has been extended for another 10 years. Bizarrely, the support deal now extends further into the future than the present lifespan of the entire mobile industry.

According to the CWU, directly employed O2 support bods can expect to earn a tenner an hour, while those already outsourced to Capita are only getting seven quid for the same shift.

Telefonica-owned O2 says it will be spending £31m saved through the outsourcing deal on improving its response to customers on social networks and live web chats. The mobile giant describes the move as a response to changing customer behaviour, while the CWU describes it as "a betrayal of the staff who have built this company and made it successful".

O2's rationale for the move is that modern customers are using smartphones and getting support from Twitter and Facebook, rather than calling telephone support. O2's Apple-envying retail stores are also getting another £19m to "mirror O2's online shopping experience".

Telephone support is always a money pit for consumer-facing companies, particularly tech companies. Provide a fantastic service and customers will call in every time a web page loads slowly... The trick is to provide a service bad enough to ensure customers have tried to fix the problem themselves before the call, but good enough to keep them as customers.

It's a hard balance to keep, but one which O2 will be able to blame on Capita from the end of next month. ®

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