Sacked call centre workers offered compensation and additional shifts

Pressure from workers and representative bodies has mounted

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Call centre workers fired from their jobs at the Sydney Telephone Program have been offered two weeks of extra shifts and one week’s average pay as compensation, following backlash against their employer Ruffalo Noel Levitz (RNL).

RNL, a private firm contracted to manage the University’s fundraising, sacked the 53 casual employees, who were all students, with less than 24 hours’ notice last Friday. The firing came as the Sydney Telephone Program wound up operations for 2018.

Honi understands that active callers were offered the two weeks of further work after an intervention by the University.

Renée Vaillancourt, Executive Vice President (Operations), said in a letter to the National Union of Workers, that the compensation was intended to “relieve some of the financial stress that has been created, while also showing good faith with our workforce.”

Ten extra shifts between now and Tuesday 23 October have been promised to those that have worked at least one shift in the last month. Only 20 workers will be rostered for each three hour shift, which made “sign-ups a competition between the 53 staff”, according to student caller Hersha Kadkol. Instead of making calls, the students will be writing thank you cards to donors.

Late on Wednesday evening, RNL offered students an apology and a week’s pay, based on each worker’s average weekly hours over the last month.

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The move comes after the National Union of Workers, which represents workers at the Sydney Telephone Program call centre, issued a letter on Tuesday calling for compensation to be provided.

An open letter from the National Tertiary Education Union also said the sacking showed “little respect for [workers’] efforts, as students who have worked hard to raise money for our University”.

NTEU USyd Branch President Kurt Iveson urged the University to reinstate the callers as University of Sydney employees. Iveson also called for future student fundraisers to be employed under the University of Sydney enterprise agreement, rather than by a third party contractor.

A University spokesperson agreed the notice period given to student callers “was too short”; they also said it “might be feasible” for the University to bring the program in-house next year. They did not rule out re-entering a contract with RNL.

If the Sydney Telephone Program is brought in-house, the University spokesperson said positions would be advertised on the Careers Hub website.

The telephone fundraising program concludes each spring. However, in previous years, students remained employed with the expectation they would continue working after the summer break without having to reinterview for the position.

Kadkol said most callers “had the expectation in mind” that they would be working from the start of Semester 1 to the end of exam period in Semester 2.

A Surveymonkey link sent by RNL to student employees at the end of 2017, asked callers whether they “understand that the phone appeal will run 14 March until approximately 15 December”.

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Another student told Honi that many callers had asked the Program Centre Manager how long they would be calling for and “she repeatedly confirmed that it would be until November end.”

“While we do understand that this isn’t a contract per say [sic], it did provide us with a reference point for when we’d be calling until.”

As reported by Honi on Saturday, the University was informed by RNL on 26 September that 350 calling hours remained in the year and that calling would cease on 6 October.

NTEU Vice-President (General Staff), Jen Harrison, wrote on internal social media communication site, Yammer, that she was “appalled” that the University was outsourcing labour and “utterly failing to ensure that the staff receive adequate pay and conditions”.

Vice Principal (Advancement) Tim Dolan acknowledged in a reply to the post that the notice period provided by RNL was “too short and did not serve our students properly”.

The University’s spokesperson did not specify measures which would ensure external contractors give adequate notice in future, only saying that the University “would look to take a more active role in ensuring timely communication to student employees”.

RNL did not respond to our request for comment.