Skip to content

Telus tells Ontario call centre workers to relocate or risk losing their job

f3ce2636-4ef2-454e-bfa1-357dcd8fb7c0
The sign on the front of the Telus head office is shown in Toronto on Thursday, February 11, 2021.Telus Corp. has informed around 200 call centre employees based in Ontario they must relocate to Montreal by October or accept a voluntary package to leave the company. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Telus Corp. has informed around 150 call centre employees based in Ontario they must relocate by October, apply for another role or agree to be laid off.

The union representing those workers, United Steelworkers Local 1944, said it was informed Tuesday that affected employees would have the option of working in Montreal, calling it a "backdoor termination" by Telus in an attempt to reduce the company's head count.

The move is part of a larger reorganization announced internally on Wednesday. It will require around 1,000 call centre employees across the country, who have been working remotely since the COVID-19 pandemic began, to return to the office three days a week starting in September.

But customer service agents in Ontario won't have a local office to return to because Telus is closing its Barrie location, which housed its Ontario contact centre, "following a thoughtful review of our real estate," said spokeswoman Brandi Merker.

"We’ve been on a journey to evolve our customer service, increasingly offering digital and self-serve options that continue to decrease call volumes," she said in an emailed statement.

"As part of this evolution, we’re investing in our frontline team members with training, reskilling and new tools that modernize our capabilities so that when customers do need to call us for more complex situations, their issue is resolved the first time, every time."

Merker said those who accept relocation will receive financial support, while the voluntary separation package being offered exceeds the requirements of the Canada Labour Code.

"While we hope our team is excited to evolve and grow with us, we know this is a change to the way we work today, and in particular, represents a significant personal decision for our Ontario-based team members," she said.

The financial package includes 18 months of wages, plus possible bonuses based on seniority, said United Steelworkers Local 1944 president Michael Phillips.

But he called Telus' offer to its Ontario workers "disingenuous."

"I mean, it's a national telecom that can afford to provide an office for their employees in Ontario," said Phillips.

"They're just deciding not to. It's essentially a backdoor termination."

He added the union is looking into its legal options, saying there was "virtually no notice" that the work-from-home model in place since 2020 would change.

"Suddenly, they're doing this about face and disrupting the lives of at least 1,000 of their employees," said Phillips.

In a unionized work environment, the rules surrounding relocation of employees is determined by the collective agreement in place, said employment lawyer Alex Lucifero, a partner at Samfiru Tumarkin LLP.

That differs from a non-unionized environment, where forcing employees to move to another province or risk being laid off would constitute "constructive dismissal."

"If, ultimately, an employer can force a move like this and if there are legitimate business reasons for the move, then quite frankly there would be nothing stopping an employer from doing so," he said.

"But it's a question then of what is the legal recourse as a result of that decision."

Lucifero said if there are no rules about relocation set out in the collective agreement, it's up to the union to fight to ensure employees are taken care of. That could include advocating for workers to have a fair chance of continuing their employment in another department.

"If the company is committed to placing employees in other positions to try and ensure that they keep their jobs with Telus, I think that's the right thing to do," he said.

"If that's just placating employees and telling them what they want to hear when really there's no chance of that of that happening ... that's a bad look for the employer."

Lucifero added there are obligations surrounding moving costs and the amount of notice companies must give when imposing a relocation on its employees.

He said reasonable notice depends "on the degree of change," noting the affected Telus employees have just three months to move to another province.

"It'll be case by case and context specific, but I think at first glance, this is a major relocation and that kind of notice isn't enough," said Lucifero.

"I don't think that's enough time for any employee to really get their affairs in order properly and implement a move like that."

The Vancouver-based telecommunications company announced last August it was cutting 6,000 jobs in order to adapt to a “rapidly transforming industry,” saying issues such as regulation and competition had prompted the need to reduce its payroll.

The reduction included 4,000 workers at its main Telus business, along with 2,000 cuts at Telus International, which provides IT services and customer service to global clients.

Telus has said it is increasingly relying on technological advancements at its call centres, which includes integrating artificial intelligence into customer service operations.

Nazim Benhadid, chief technology officer for Telus, said at a Toronto conference last month that a troubleshooting tool available for customers on the company's website is now "completely gen AI."

"It will capture what the customer needs, will find the next best action, will inform the customer, and over time it will be able to resolve things for the customer," he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 11, 2024.

Companies in this story: (TSX:T)

Sammy Hudes, The Canadian Press


Looking for National Business News?

VillageReport.ca viewed on a mobile phone

Check out Village Report - the news that matters most to Canada, updated throughout the day. Or, subscribe to Village Report's free daily newsletter: a compilation of the news you need to know, sent to your inbox at 6AM.

Subscribe