Telstra has moved to close a 108-seat business call centre in the northern NSW city of Grafton, sparking the ire of union members and a petition from local MP Janelle Saffin.
The telco planned to close the centre in November, moving some 93 jobs to existing centres in Brisbane and Melbourne.
A Telstra spokesman said it aimed to centralise business call centre operations, and would offer relocation, retraining or redundancy packages to affected staff.
"We are in a two-week consultation period, listening to staff, unions and the community," he told iTnews.
"If the closure proceeds it would most likely happen in approximately 8 weeks time - again, depending on consultations."
Grafton's Daily Examiner newspaper reported that Telstra had blamed the site's high union membership for the move.
But Telstra spokesman Rod Bruem told iTnews that union membership was "common across all our centres and Telstra doesn't discriminate".
"There is really only one reason that sets Grafton apart from other Telstra Business Centres - that is we don't believe it has the scope to be upgraded to a major, 200-seats-plus call centre," he said.
"We already have that scope in our other Brisbane and Melbourne operations."
Today, the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) "strongly condemned" Telstra for the proposal, which was divulged to the union by fax.
Although Telstra had job openings in local Telstra Country Wide branches, as well as call centres in Lismore, Newcastle, Brisbane and Melbourne, CPSU argued that the move could devastate the local economy.
CPSU assistant national secretary Louise Persse labelled Telstra's regional job cuts a "national disgrace", highlighting closures in Geelong, Bendigo, Ballarat, Maroochydore and Cairns since 2006.
"This decision is a direct attack upon Telstra workers, their families and the services they provide to the Australian community, particularly in regional Australia," Persse stated.
"Working in these [new] cities is not a practical option for the staff whose jobs are under threat. They have families and commitments in the local area."
Page MP Janelle Saffin today launched a petition against Telstra's proposal, urging CEO David Thodey to intervene and Telstra shareholders to "use their shareholder power to stop the loss of jobs".
The petition read: "We, the undersigned citizens of the Clarence Valley, call upon Telstra Business CEO Mr David Thodey to intervene immediately to halt any plan to axe up to 108 jobs of employees at Telstra Call Centre, 144 Fitzroy Street, Grafton.
"We further object to Telstra Business saying it is moving the jobs to the cities of Brisbane and Melbourne; indicating to the citizens of the Clarence Valley that Telstra Business is abandoning country Australia."
Saffin said she would call on other regional politicians to "tell Telstra that it is not on to close regional call centres and move jobs to the city, because their region may be next".
"This is an appalling way to treat staff, and is cruel and unnecessary. It shows Telstra Business is abandoning regional NSW and regional Australia," she said.
"How can we have faith in Telstra as a corporate citizen in meeting our needs in regional Australia when they treat us in such a callous way?"