As is to be expected in a time of transition with no firm information being provided as to how the future will unfold, certain rumours are floating about the hallowed (digital) halls of Athabasca University. One of the more disturbing ones is that AU is planning to outsource or contract out the call centre (aka student support centre) jobs currently held inhouse by our sisters and brothers in AUPE 069. This would be a very negative step for many reasons and CUPE 3911 is strongly opposed to such a move.
General reasons to oppose outsourcing the call centre jobs include the following:
First and foremost, outsourcing would obviously mean multiple job losses for the local highly experienced, long-term AUPE members who currently hold those positions and would inflict on these workers all the insecurity and hardship that losing their jobs would involve. That is unconscionable. Loss of local jobs would also negatively affect the local economy and in essence would break the previous promise to keep AU in Athabasca.
Outsourcing is always implemented to “cut costs”, i.e., cut workers’ pay and benefits. Any excuses that it has to do with improving the educational experiences of students or staff are complete nonsense. Further, the goal to “cut costs” may not even be achieved because of new hidden costs such as losing students due to poorer service or legal fees for settling attendant grievances.
Outsourcing turns unionized positions into non-unionized positions with the concomitant undermining of the benefits and pay that the workers fought hard for. It is covert union-busting.
Outsourcing is always accompanied by increases in casualization and the number of part-time positions which simultaneously means decreases in job security. It is quite likely that all the new positions would be precarious.
Outsourced call agents are often not subject to the same background checks that local workers are. Thus, confidential or sensitive information may be made less secure, a major concern when dealing with post-secondary education students.
Studies have shown over and over that outsourcing decreases service quality and “customer” satisfaction for a variety of specific reasons, including the following:
Outsourcing hands over all hiring and scheduling to the external service provider who will be unfamiliar with the context of the employment, e.g., the specific requirements of online distance post-secondary education.
Outsourcing leads to decreasing the organization’s control over service functions, making it more difficult to monitor for quality and put policies in place to help improve service.
Outsourced call centre agents are often unfamiliar with the organization’s practices and values. They are less dedicated to the organization and thus less devoted to providing a high level of service.
Outsourced call agents often do not work in the same building or location and cannot communicate with each other in the event of connected or common problems.
Outsourced call agents are often working for multiple organizations, dividing their attention and their loyalties.