Business & Economy

Australia’s Telstra fined $50 million over treatment of indigenous customers

Sydney, Australia, May 13 (EFE).- An Australian court on Thursday fined telecoms company Telstra AU$50 million ($38.6 million) plus costs for taking advantage of more than 100 indigenous customers who “were vulnerable to unconscionable sales practices employed by the staff.”

Judge Debra Mortimer of the Federal Court of Australia argued in her ruling that Telstra violated the Consumer Law due to the “exploitative practices” carried out by its employees in five of its locations in its issuance of mobile phone plan contracts to 108 indigenous people.

Many of these customers were from remote communities, spoke English as a second, third or fourth language, did not understand contract terms and/or were unemployed or living on social benefits.

Some sales staff entered the consumers into more than one contract for post-paid mobile products and services in a single day, the ruling said.

“The affected consumers were also exposed to serious financial hardship and distress through becoming liable for expenses that they could not afford to pay, and which some had not understood they were incurring,” emphasizes the ruling, which points to items such as additional payments for data usage.

The judge also pointed to “other aggravating factors” such as the way Telstra handled complaints, its delay in accepting responsibility and its debt recovery practices.

Rod Sims, president of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, said the “unconscionable conduct” of stores across three states and territories included “manipulating credit assessments and misrepresenting products as free, and exploiting the social, language, literacy and cultural vulnerabilities of these Indigenous customers.”

The fine against Telstra is the second highest imposed in Australia under the Consumer Law, after the AU$125 million that Volkswagen had to pay in 2019 for the “dieselgate scandal.” EFE

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