Northwestel plans to drop local phone operators

Soon when you dial zero on your landline you won't be speaking to a Yukoner. Northwestel is eliminating its seven local operator jobs because the company says people aren't using the service enough anymore.

Soon when you dial zero on your landline you won’t be speaking to a Yukoner.

Northwestel is eliminating its seven local operator jobs because the company says people aren’t using the service enough anymore.

Instead, Northwestel is “pooling” its services with its parent company, Bell, so that the calls will be answered at an office somewhere else in Canada, said company spokesperson Andrew Anderson. He didn’t say specifically where.

“We have seen, as all telecommunications have, major reductions in the demands for operator services as technology goes online and different technologies become available,” Anderson said.

“So for example, people are using landlines less and cell phones more. There are web services such as Google and Canada411 which help customers find the information that we need.”

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission requires that phone companies have someone answer the phone 24/7 when a customer dials zero from a landline.

Anderson said in the past five years Northwestel operators have seen call volumes decline by 70 per cent.

As it stands now, an operator at Northwestel is only serving customers for an average of 13 per cent of their shift, he said.

Anderson didn’t have a specific date for when the switch-over would take place. He said it will be happening sometime “within the following weeks.”

Customers shouldn’t notice a difference, he said.

Meanwhile, it’s not clear yet how many of those seven employees will actually be laid off. The collective agreement means some could be offered other jobs within the company or offered retirement.

“I am disappointed in the fact that they’ve decided to outsource the operator services positions,” said Bud McCue, business manager for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers local 1574.

McCue said his biggest concern is that the employees have the opportunity to at least move into a different position. All that is still being worked out.

Anderson said Northwestel’s overall employment levels in the Yukon over the past year have remained stable.

“We are not looking at any net decrease in jobs in the Yukon.”

He said the company has increased the number of employees it has in web production, information technology and other technical areas because these are growing areas of the business.

“So this is about ensuring that we are investing in the services that customers are using and demanding here in northern Canada.”

Contact Ashley Joannou at

ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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