Exclusive: Union warns of ‘thin end of wedge’ as energy giant EDF plans 150 job losses

EDF to cut customer service jobs in move linked by critics to Labour price-freeze pledge

Mark Leftly
Tuesday 22 April 2014 09:06
Comments

The Big Six energy supplier EDF is planning to axe 150 customer service jobs in Sunderland and across the South in a cost-cutting move that unions fear will lead to a wider redundancy programme.

The job losses come just weeks after EDF’s rival SSE announced plans to chop 500 people from its workforce – a move that some critics believe stems from the possibility of an incoming Labour government and its stated policy of freezing energy bills.

EDF claims that after transferring more than 5 million customer accounts to a new IT system, there are now too many people working in its call centres. Customers are becoming more used to managing their accounts online rather than calling for help about their bills, so 5 per cent of the division’s workforce must go.

However, industry sources suggest that the IT system frequently crashes, while the GMB union’s national officer for customer services, Eamonn O’Hearn Large, said he questioned the “economic rationale” of the redundancies.

He added: “Front-line staff are the people who bear the brunt of angry customers’ complaints – and cost-cutting. We are concerned that this is the thin end of the wedge and might lead to hundreds more job losses.”

The GMB plans to put pressure on EDF by carrying out a workload and staffing survey of front-line employees, which would be expected to show how productive –and therefore essential – they are for EDF. The staff are also represented by the Unison and Prospect unions.

A senior industry figure said it was “not surprising” that EDF was planning redundancies: “All the big energy companies have got to make some pretty major cost-cutting, I think, on the back of Labour’s price-freeze announcement.”

The Labour leader, Ed Miliband, announced the policy last year as he sought to move the general election fight on to the cost of living. The election is expected to be close, meaning that energy companies have to prepare to find ways of paying for the prospect of Labour enforcing its pledge to freeze prices to 2017.

The Government responded with a cut on green levies, which resulted in EDF being the first of the Big Six to announce that there were unlikely to be any bill hikes this year. In March, SSE said it would keep electricity and gas prices at their current levels until 2016 – a pledge that led directly to its own job losses.

EDF said that line managers and team coaches in Exeter, Plymouth, Hove, Worthing and Sunderland would be “impacted” by the changes in customer services. Some of these staff are on secondment and will return to their original roles, and EDF is hoping to move other staff or secure voluntary, rather than compulsory, redundancies.

A company spokeswoman said: “To ensure that we run our business as efficiently as possible, we will require fewer employees in this department by the end of 2014. We are doing everything possible to minimise any redundancies.”

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged in