Switzerland’s national airline is to close three of its four call centres in a bid to reduce costs by SFr6 million ($5 million) a year. The move will affect 140 jobs.
Unions described Swiss’s decision to transfer some work abroad and shut down its centres run by its subsidiary Mindpearl in Zurich, Geneva and Lugano as incomprehensible.
The company said in a statement on Tuesday that it would create ten new jobs at a fourth centre in Basel. This choice was dictated by financial reasons, since the building where the Basel centre is housed is owned by Swiss.
The news follows the announcement last month that Swiss was to reduce its fleet of 62 aircraft by 13, and axe 800 to 1,000 jobs by 2006. The call centre jobs that are being cut are part of this package.
The carrier, formed from the remnants of Swissair and the regional carrier Crossair, has been struggling to break even since it was formed in March 2002.
It has had problems positioning itself between premium airlines and low-cost competitors.
The 190 staff currently employed at the four centres handle more than 1.25 million calls each year.
Swiss said it was “reorganising” its domestic reservations bureaux, intensifying its working relationship with Mindpearl, its wholly owned call-centre subsidiary.
It has been reported that Mindpearl will create another 140 jobs abroad.
“Following a thorough analysis of various options, Swiss has come to the decision that close collaboration with its Mindpearl subsidiary offers the best way forward,” the statement said.
“The Basel call centre will continue operations and expand its workforce by at least ten positions.”
The carrier said it would phase in the measures over the summer to maintain current levels of customer service.
It added that Swiss customers would not be affected and they would still be able to book flights at any time.
"There will be no impact for customers," said Jean-Claude Donzel, a Swiss spokesman. "People don't realise that the employees who answer their calls aren't in Switzerland."
Mindpearl runs five call centres around the world - in Cape Town, Brisbane, Barcelona, London and New York - and also works with Avis and Finnair.
Union representatives reacted angrily to the news. The Swiss Office Employees Union said the decision to shut the centres was incomprehensible and dangerous, adding that quality would suffer and customer relations would be threatened.
The union complained that the company had broken its promise to keep jobs in Switzerland, a pledge its management made after receiving SFr2 billion in public funds three years ago to rebuild the airline.
The ground personnel union said that the 140 jobs that Mindpearl was creating in Australia and South Africa would be of little comfort to the employees who were being laid off.
swissinfo with agencies
In January Swiss announced it would reduce its fleet of 62 aircraft by 13.
Between 2005 and 2006, 800-1,000 jobs will be lost.
The regional fleet consists of seven Saabs, 19 Jumbolinos and 11 Embraer aircraft.
Newspaper reports suggest that all the Saabs, two Jumbolinos and four Embraers could disappear.
Around 280 pilots would lose their jobs.
Swiss took to the skies on March 31, 2002. It was created from the remnants of the former Swissair and the regional carrier Crossair.
The new airline made a profit for the first time in the third quarter of 2004.
It reported net profit of SFr16 million compared with a SFr276 million loss for the same period in 2003.
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