Telus’ Use of Subcontractors On COVID-19 Contracts is Raising New Questions About Its Messy Vaccine Booking System
Debt collection agency says Telus discussed farming out call centre work for booking vaccine appointments in British Columbia
A debt collection agency says it was recently in negotiations with Telus about the possibility of subcontracting work related to British Columbia’s COVID-19 vaccine booking process, shedding new light on the sometimes messy delivery chains created by private corporations that secure public health contracts.
This week, BC’s mass vaccine rollout process got off to a rocky start, with reports that phone systems set up to book vaccine appointments became jammed on Monday. Bookings were back on track by Wednesday.
BC’s Minister of Health Adrian Dix said the province had contracted Telus to provide call centres for booking vaccine appointments in BC’s five regional health authorities, and that the company initially failed to ensure adequate staffing levels while also experiencing technical difficulties.
Telus’ use of private subcontractors to fulfill its COVID-19 contracts may shed additional light on some of those difficulties.
Bob Richards, president of a Burnaby-based debt-collection agency called CBV Collection Services, confirms his company was recently in discussions with the telecommunications giant about the possibility of securing a contract to help with BC’s vaccine booking system.
“We are definitely talking to them,” Richards told PressProgress. “100% for sure, so it’s quite possible we will be involved.”
“I don’t want to be ambiguous on it, but at this stage we’re in negotiations.”
“We have worked with (Telus) in the past on various COVID programs, but as far as the vaccine program goes, I can’t comment at this stage,” Richards said.
CBV operates with a subsidiary company called FrontLine Group. On a job website, FrontLine Group describes itself as a “business process outsourcing subsidiary of CBV Collection Services Ltd.”
On its website, CBV states “we aim to collect debts owing to you quickly, efficiently, and in full without alienating or frustrating your clients.”
“Telus is a client of ours and we do subcontract work with Telus, but we’re doing a lot of different programs with them,” Richards added. “We have a large contingency of agents that absolutely are working under the auspices of being Telus as a contracted out service.”
Richards left the question open as to whether it’s possible any CBV employees have already been involved in bookings for COVID vaccines, conceding “it’s absolutely possible.”
In response to questions from PressProgress about Telus subcontracting with CBV, a Telus spokesperson said: “We are leveraging all the tools at our disposal, including our vendor relationships, to scale up and respond to the unprecedented call centre volumes in British Columbia.”
A former CBV employee, who recently quit the company’s call centre after working there in the past week, told PressProgress they were told by a company manager that their job would be related to booking vaccine appointments but had not yet been provided with adequate training or technical support.
“The people that were there really didn’t introduce themselves,” the former employee said. “They said go home, make sure your equipment is all working.”
The employee, who asked not to be named as they regularly work in call centres, provided documents confirming they recently worked for CBV. They said they had been hired within the past month through a recruitment agency called Adecco to work $19 per hour on a medium-term contract.
The employee recalled they were not provided with any specific instructions about when staff were supposed to start working.
“I sat there, supposed to be on the first day which was this last Sunday, and I sat there for like two hours, messaged the person I’m supposed to be talking to that I thought would help,” the employee said. “I couldn’t even get logged into this system.”
“It was extremely disorganized,” they said. “We had to sit there for about three hours waiting for IT to get the computers ready.”
The employee said staff were due to be given just one day of online virtual training.
“I’ve done call centre work before, but this was a joke,” the employee added. “The equipment they were using was actually quite old too.”
The employee said they had not been aware until news reports this week indicated the province had contracted Telus for the vaccine booking process.
“I was not aware at all,” the employee said, noting that callers reported directly to managers from CBV. “I’m not surprised things are the way they are now.”
Richards declined to comment on allegations about the company’s training, equipment and communication for CBV staff.
Damien Contandriopoulos, a nursing professor at the University of Victoria, told PressProgress that private corporations subcontracting out service delivery to other companies carries dangers related to quality of service and loss of capacity for the public sector.
“The private sector will be there for the money,” Contandriopoulos explained. “That will usually translate into poor working conditions for the workforce involved, cutting corners quality-wise and skimping on the amount of services offered.”
As well, Contandriopoulos added, “once a government starts to outsource some of its core functions, like here its basic public health capacity, then it hollows out its capacities in general. The state stops having the needed expertise, workforce, space, etc.”
Contandriopoulos wasn’t surprised to hear BC’s vaccine booking system had been originally contracted out to Telus, as he noted the telecommunications giant has become a “major healthcare delivery player in BC.”
PressProgress asked the Ministry of Health if it was aware that Telus was looking to outsource with CBV. In response, the ministry provided a statement from Vancouver Coastal Health Board Chair Dr. Penny Ballem.
“The first day of our vaccine appointment booking rollout saw some bumps, and regardless of those challenges we still managed to book nearly 15,000 vaccine appointments on day one. Day two was much smoother and I’m grateful to Telus for making the changes we needed for a better second day.”
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