Qantas faces another blow to call center controversy as union weighs in

The national carrier is in hot water again as customers continue to face long wait times, forcing the union to step in and call for change.

Qantas is in hot water again over its call center issues as the union weighs in, calling for “urgent resolution”.

The Australian Services Union (ASU) today said call center wait times are predicted to “blow out further” as more Aussies start traveling overseas again in our complicated Covid world.

ASU assistant national secretary Emeline Gaske said the union had been speaking with Qantas staff who were “exhausted and working beyond breaking point”.

“These problems started with Qantas offshoring local jobs and cutting in-airport customer service last year under the cover of the pandemic,” Ms Gaske said.

“That puts huge extra pressure on call centers and Qantas didn’t add any new call center staff.

“Now that we’re seeing the industry recover, and customers return to Qantas, they must repay Australian taxpayers and employ local staff.”

Only one Qantas call center is located in Australia.

The Hobart center opened back in 2000 and specifically services the airline’s premium clients and frequent flyer members.

The ASU is calling on Qantas to add at least 50 staff to its Hobart call centre, claiming only 14 to 30 staff are rostered on there at a time.

Qantas disputed those figures and said the airline had 69 people working in Hobart throughout today, with some working from home.

“We want to see airport staff re-employed to take pressure off call centers for customer issues that arise at the airport,” Ms Gaske said.

“We have also called on Qantas to urgently begin discussions with the union about bringing offshored jobs back to Australia.

“Qantas has offshored or cut up to 800 local call center staff over the past few years leaving it with just one call center in Hobart.”

Ms Gaske called on the airline to bring call center jobs back to Australia.

“Local jobs that have been cut or offshored in recent years should be returned home,” she said.

“Qantas knows that local staff deliver a better service which is why they triage priority customers to the local call center staff, not overseas call centres.”

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce spoke at a Victorian Chamber event yesterday, apologizing for the long wait times customers are experiencing.

“I do apologise for anybody trying to get through to our call center at the moment,” he said.

“The average wait time is an hour and a half and we shouldn’t be at those levels for general calls, half an hour for premium calls.

“But that’s because our call centre, with these changes of borders, has gone from 5000 calls a day to 15,000 calls a day.

“And every time there’s a change, like New Zealand opening up, it spikes.”

Mr Joyce said call centers were the “only area where we haven’t cut back on staff”.

The airline had 370 people working at its call centers during Covid and will have 1000 people by the middle of the year, the CEO added.

Currently, 800 people are employed in Qantas call centers across the world with 250 to 300 people working across them each day.

Qantas is also in the process of adding more call takers to its centers in Hobart and Auckland, with most of the additions made in the New Zealand Centre.

Centers in Cape Town, South Africa and in Fiji are also being expanded.

“We’re trebling the size of it to try and keep with that volume but the thing we’re having to do is trying to get people to do a lot of the administration themselves if they can,” Mr Joyce said.

“Nearly 60 per cent of the people that ring the call center could be doing that on the website or in the app because there’s a lot more functionality.

“So we are going to have these teething problems and Qantas is not unique with it, other international airlines are having the exact same issue. So getting the airline back out of hibernation, getting the airline to be fully operational internationally.”

Mr Joyce urged customers to “bear with us” as they fix the issues.

“I’d say bear with us for the while and some things won’t be quite what you expect from Qantas, but we are working on it and trying to fix it as fast as we can,” he said.

Ms Gaske said there was one way to fix the customer discontent.

“There is only one way to fix this for customers and for workers alike – we need at least another 50 local call center staff to handle the demand and reinvestment in airport customer service capacity and to reverse the offshoring of local jobs,” she said.

Things have taken a turn for the worse since March, when Qantas started to be inundated by hundreds of furious comments on social media.

Over the past few weeks, plenty of customers posted screenshots to Twitter and Facebook of their hold times, most stretching for more than two hours.

More than 1200 people have signed a petition started only last week, “demanding better customer service from Qantas”.

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