March 20, 2020 / 12:03 AM / 17 days ago

UPDATE 1-Australia's Telstra to beef up contract staff, freeze job cuts

(Adds details on measures to add staff, bring forward investment, background on current economic climate)

March 20 (Reuters) - Telstra Corp said on Friday it will freeze job cuts for now and hire 1,000 temporary staff at a time when other Australian companies are laying off workers and slashing expenses due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Shares in Australia’s largest telecom company were down 1% in early trade, compared with a near 3% bounce by the broader market.

Telstra put off any job cuts over the next six months and said the 1,000 temporary contractors it plans to hire will help handle the growing volumes at its call centres.

It also said it would double-down on its 5G roll-out by bringing forward A$500 million ($284.10 million) in capital spending to this year from the second half of fiscal 2021.

“We are looking at every aspect of our business to see what we can do for our employees, customers, suppliers and the economy more broadly, while we maintain a focus on long-term value creation,” Chief Executive Officer Andrew Penn said in a statement.

Sponsorships that are set to expire this year will also be renewed by another 12 months, Telstra said, adding that it will suspend late fees for customers and small businesses unable to pay their bills.

Penn said it was difficult to pin-point the impact of the coronavirus on Telstra right now.

“We know there will likely be more impacts for us from a financial perspective through this unprecedented period.”

The dire consequences of global travel curbs and shutdowns prompted Australia’s central bank to say on Thursday that it will do “whatever is necessary” to support the country’s economy as it made a historic foray into quantitative easing.

The same day saw Qantas Airways tell two-thirds of its workforce, about 20,000 employees, that they will be temporarily laid off as Australia told its citizens not to travel abroad.

$1 = 1.7599 Australian dollars Reporting by Nikhil Kurian Nainan in Bengaluru; Editing by Shri Navaratnam and Stephen Coates

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