Vodafone was forced to hand back $330,433 from a $4 million grant by the federal government after failing to deliver 700 new positions to its Hobart call centre.
The grant was promised to Vodafone as part of an election pledge by former Prime Minister Julia Gillard in 2013, later supported by Tony Abbott’s Liberal government.
The money – which came alongside an $850,000 Tasmanian government contribution as well as payroll tax relief – was to fund a doubling of positions in Vodafone’s Hobart call centre, part of a renewed customer service push for a telco that was working to recover from the ‘Vodafail‘ issues of 2010-11.
Vodafone relocated call centre positions from offshore locations, as well as its existing Kingston facility, to the Hobart office.
The telco was required to keep the $4 million in a specific bank account until June 30 2017, when the federal government would decide whether Vodafone had met its obligations under the agreement and could keep the money.
The main obligation was that Vodafone would employ at least 700 new workers for the duration of the agreement.
But concerns were raised a year out from the end of the agreement over whether Vodafone would be able to deliver the promised new jobs.
At last year’s May budget estimates the federal Industry department said it was aware of the concerns and was waiting on a final report from Vodafone, due in August.
It revealed late last year in response to questions on notice from supplementary estimates hearings that Vodafone had fallen short of its target.
The telco managed to bring in a peak of 504 new workers to the Hobart call centre, the department said, but a “significant decrease” in complaint calls to the facility made further employment unsustainable.
Customers turning more to digital channels over call centres for service also had an impact on employment levels, the department said.
Given the missed target Vodafone was forced to return $330,433 of the $4 million grant to the Commonwealth.
The department said it had not monitored employment levels since the funding agreement ceased on June 30 last year.
Vodafone declined to provide current figures for its Hobart workforce, saying only that employee numbers remained “stable”.
“Vodafone has invested over $200 million on the Hobart centre since 2013, and local care remains an important part of our business,” a spokesperson said.
“However, the Vodafone of today is completely different to that of four years ago. The issues which drove high levels of calls to our call centres, particularly those related to network and billing, have been addressed.”
The telco said call volumes had dropped 40 percent since 2013, and its complaint rate was now around half the industry average.
“As our business has evolved, we no longer need as many people in our onshore or overseas call centres as forecast four years ago,” the spokesperson said.
“However, our Hobart centre is no longer just a call centre, it has been developed into a centre of excellence where our employees perform specialised functions to support our customers. We have been very open and transparent with our employees, keeping them informed of any changes and the reasons for those changes.”