ALMOST 600 call centre workers are losing their jobs because their work can be done for a tenth of the cost in Asia.
Stunned employees were in tears as they left the Talk Talk building in Waterford last night, after being told they face the dole in 30 days.
Their work will be switched to the Philippines and India, where customer service agents earn less than €2,400 a year.
Staff in the Waterford centre, which employs 575 people, have been earning up to €30,000 a year doing the same job.
This works out at an average difference of around €80 a day for each worker.
The company is pulling the plug on the Waterford operation after a huge fall in customer service phone business and in the wake of plans to outsource the work.
No unions are recognised by Talk Talk so management will today begin talks with staff through an internal forum as part of the 30-day consultation period that is required by law. No redundancy terms have yet been agreed.
Yesterday's announcement takes redundancies in the city to more than 2,000 in the past three years, creating the worst unemployment blackspot in the country.
The Irish Independent has also learned:
• Talk Talk did not consult with the IDA before pulling the plug.
• Shocked workers first heard of the job losses on the radio or social networking websites, Facebook and Twitter.
• Staff had recently been sent to train workers in foreign call centres -- before being told their own jobs were being cut.
• Enterprise Minister Richard Bruton was briefed by TalkTalk chiefs but it is understood he was told the decision could not be reversed.
• Talk Talk had asked the IDA about a grant to upskill its workforce recently, but it didn't draw down the cash.
• IDA officials were angered by the company's decision to pull the plug and only offer four weeks' notice.
• The fact that Ireland is in the eurozone was a factor in deciding to shut the plant.
The call centre will close in 30 days, but about 80 positions are available to staff willing to move to the UK.
However, the balance of work will be done by outsourced companies in India, the Philippines or South Africa.
Staff were called into a meeting yesterday afternoon -- but many had already heard the news after it was leaked.
Talk Talk group human resources manager Nigel Sullivan said he was "not aware" that any staff knew their jobs were gone before they came to work yesterday, but said the company was "unhappy" with how some staff learned of the news.
Mr Sullivan said the reason for the closure was that calls from customers had fallen by 40pc. while Talk Talk was now taking more online queries.
Mr Sullivan denied that high costs in Ireland were the main reason for the closure. "Cost wasn't the primary driver at all. It's wrong to say it's never a factor in business, of course it is."
But he said the fact that Waterford was the company's only site that operated with the euro was a factor. The firm's revenue is in sterling so it is exposed to the currency exchange rate.
"The proposed change will therefore also limit our exposure to exchange rate fluctuations," he said.
The company said it did not know how much workers were paid in its outsourced call centres, as it used them on a contract basis only.
Talk Talk has 4.8 million customers and around 3,500 staff at 14 call centres. It is one of the largest broadband providers in Britain but has been fined a record £3m by British telecoms regulator Ofcom for "breaching consumer rules".
An IDA spokesman said it had "always worked closely" with Talk Talk.
"We were aware of issues with currency fluctuations -- but they did not consult with us in relation to a closure," said the spokesman.
The IDA condemned the company for only giving four weeks' notice of closure.
The agency said it would now focus its efforts on finding alternative employment for the 575 workers.
Enterprise Minister Richard Bruton said he had spoken at length to the company CEO and asked for more time to find a new business for the facility.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the sudden closure was a real shock and concern.