Carphone Warehouse sales staff seek union help over tough TalkTalk targets

Workers at the mobile-phone retailer were said to be happier than their rivals, but now they are turning to Amicus in their fight against 'bullying' management
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The Independent Online

Angry workers at Carphone Warehouse are seeking union help over fears they will be sacked for failing to meet tough new sales targets for TalkTalk, the chain's landline service.

One manager, who declined to be named, said staff had been told that should they fail to sell eight TalkTalk subscriptions for every 100 mobile phone deals, it would be treated as misconduct and could result in dismissal.

He added that "a number" of employees were now facing disciplinary action, while others were threatening not to sell mobile phones to avoid missing the TalkTalk target.

An anonymous email has also been circulated, complaining of the targets and accusing the company of "bullying tactics". Referring to Carphone Warehouse's founder and chief executive, Charles Dunstone, it says: "We have heard from our 'board' many times, of how awful Phones4U are, how they treat their employees terribly, how they demand so much and how they treat their customers with such contempt - well look around Mr Dunstone because its all coming home! [sic]"

The email also says that a "large number" of employees have contacted a union, thought to be Amicus. It urges fellow workers to join and allow Amicus to officially represent the workforce in dealings with management.

An Amicus spokesman confirmed that the union had been contacted. He added: "If someone contacts the union and says 'I want to join', then we send out membership forms. But if there are a number of issues they are not happy about, it becomes an area that the union recognises as one we need recognition in. So then we've got to get access to the plant or wherever and the campaign begins.

"Our organisers have been looking at Carphone Warehouse, they have been contacted by employees, and it's an area where we will be looking to recruit and organise."

It is understood that employees have contacted Amicus, rather than the shop workers' union Usdaw, as the organisation is one of the UK's biggest unions and is therefore perceived to have more power. Amicus also represents workers in the financial services sector, many of whom have stringent sales targets.

A Carphone Warehouse spokeswoman confirmed the group currently did not have union recognition, adding: "We never discuss employment policies in public, but expect high standards from our people and work hard to deliver excellent customer service." She declined to comment further.

TalkTalk was launched just over two years ago, with an event hosted by Jonathan Ross, and has been aggressively marketed from the start. As well as employees being expected to push the service in store, TalkTalk undercuts its far larger rival BT and has sponsored Channel 4's flagship Big Brother series for two successive years, a deal it took on after O 2 opted out. Various incentives, such as free calls between fellow users, are also on offer.

All that has helped it bolster user numbers, with the customer base hitting the one million mark in July. A target of two million customers by 2008 has already been set.

Mr Dunstone, who recently picked up £10m after cashing in a tranche of his shares, founded Carphone Warehouse 16 years ago. He has made a feature of the chain's impartiality and high level of service, and the group has expanded rapidly. But he has also sought to move away from a dependency on mobile phone sales by introducing services such as phone insurance and TalkTalk.

Carphone Warehouse last month bucked the trend on the high street to report a 17 per cent rise in first quarter retail revenues to £259.2m.

The figure was bolstered by the opening of 75 stores across Europe, however, and underlying revenues were up a more modest 3 per cent.