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Barring an unlikely reversal in the situation, Hydro-Québec will be axing nearly 250 customer service and collections positions starting Friday. “Service quality will suffer, late files will pile up, and people will have to wait even longer on the phone. Hydro-Québec’s decision is incomprehensible and unacceptable,” denounces Claude Arseneault, president of Hydro-Québec’s technical and office employees union (SCFP 2000). The union condemns this decision on the pages of this morning’s “La Presse”, “Le Soleil”, and “Le Métro”. The campaign will not stop there, as radio messages are about to be aired in all of Quebec’s regions.

Hydro-Québec wait times deceptive

According to the union and despite affirmations by André Boulanger, president of Hydro-Québec Distribution, at the latest parliamentary committee hearings on the government corporation’s strategic plan, wait time figures are not realistic. “To achieve a target waiting time of no more than 120 seconds, Hydro-Québec is asking employees to make a note of customer issues and deal with them later. This does allow employees to respond faster, but the issues are not resolved. Imagine this winter after the planned cuts,” criticizes Claude Arseneault.

According to the data obtained, 120,000 customers have still not been billed—and are in for a rude awakening one of these days. The union president calls this situation intolerable: “You need people to handle these matters; we’re still dealing with a backlog from 2008. It’s ridiculous—we’re not meeting current needs and Hydro wants to cut jobs.” He also stresses that the task at hand is such that Hydro-Québec is asking employees to put in overtime. In fact, 28,838 overtime hours have been paid in these departments since early 2009. Yet employees still haven’t caught up. The cumulative backlog began with implementation of a $500 million computer system—which was not without hiccups. Previously, files were processed briskly according to the union, which notes that Hydro-Québec even ranked first in 2007 for customer service among Canadian electrical utilities.

Good jobs lost in several regions

Layoffs will hit workers—especially young women—across the province, including in the Côte-Nord, Lower St. Lawrence, and Saguenay regions, at a time when many communities are struggling financially. Yet Hydro-Québec is amassing substantial profits. “Layoffs are always painful, but they’re even more unacceptable when they’re not justified by a lack of work or by financial difficulties,” says Claude Arseneault. “These employees are doing necessary work and are already overburdened, but they’re being sacked. It makes no sense.”

The best way to protect the purchasing power of Quebecers is to make sure they can take home a paycheque,” said Premier Charest on November 27, 2008, in presenting his recovery plan including investment in infrastructures and hydroelectric power. “Jean Charest should call Hydro-Québec to order. We have nearly 250 people who will no longer have a paycheque and will no longer contribute to the Quebec economy. It’s the worst thing you can do during an economic slowdown,” adds Claude Arseneault.

In closing, the union is disgusted that Hydro-Québec Distribution is dismissing workers who are meeting actual customer needs while at the same time paying $100 million in annual penalties to TransCanada Energy (TCE) for a private powerplant that is generating no kilowatts or jobs. “If Hydro-Québec has the means to pay penalties on that scale, it surely has the means to pay for jobs that serve the public,” asserts the local 2000 president.