Amazon.com’s logo is seen at Amazon Japan’s office building in Tokyo, in this file photo. Picture: REUTERS
Amazon.com’s logo is seen at Amazon Japan’s office building in Tokyo, in this file photo. Picture: REUTERS

In a boost for local employment, global tech giant Amazon says it has created 3,000 new virtual jobs in SA, adding to the country’s growing customer services and call-centre services industry.

SA is grappling with one of the highest unemployment rates in the world at 29%, with estimates that it could reach 35% by the end of 2020. More jobs are being lost because of the coronavirus lockdown, which resulted in a number of businesses being unable to trade. On Thursday companies such as the SABC, Sasol and steel group Arcelor Mittal announced plans to retrench staff.

Amazon, which has been in SA for 15 years, provides technology platforms that, among other things, allow users to develop and run computer applications online.

Amazon, which has seen a spike in demand for its goods and services, recently announced plans to hire about 75,000 people around the world.

The Silicon Valley-based company said those roles will range from customer-service associates to technical experts, who will work virtually and provide 24/7 support to Amazon customers in North America and Europe. Stay-at-home rules have also resulted in an increase in remote working and virtual forms of business.

In a statement, Andrew Raichlin, director of Amazon Customer Service in SA, said: “The new jobs reflect our continued commitment to SA’s economic development and I am proud to have SA be a growing part of our ability to deliver a great experience to Amazon customers around the world and provide employees with the opportunity to work safely from home.”

The latest job numbers bring Amazon’s total permanent workforce in SA to 7,000. The move is likely to bolster an already expanding local customer services industry.

SA is one of the preferred offshore destinations for call-centre operations by multinational companies. The local industry expects new opportunities from international businesses.  

The industry’s representative body and trade association, Business Process Enabling SA (BPESA), says one of the big outcomes that could work in the sector’s favour after the pandemic is that many clients across the world have found the delivery by their call-centre partners badly disrupted to the extent that services have collapsed.

BPESA has 136 registered members, though not all call-centre operations in the country are part of the organisation. The local industry employs about 260,000 people, of whom 65,000 service international markets.

Before Covid-19 and the shutdown, the international segment of the industry was growing at a more than 22% compound annual rate, with 2019 growth at 35%.

Amazon is filling the posts, saying those interested must have completed Matric or grade 12 or higher. Since these will be virtual roles, applicants will also need a private, quiet workspace and an existing and dedicated internet connection, according to Amazon specifications.

Founded by billionaire Jeff Bezos, Amazon has had a presence in SA since 2004 through its cloud unit Amazon Web Services (AWS). Its customer services unit first opened operations in Cape Town in 2010. In April, AWS opened its first big data centres for the continent in the Western Cape.

The company is also deepening ties with SA in other ways. Last week pay-TV operator MultiChoice said it will be adding film and television content from Amazon Prime Video and Netflix onto its DStv platform, in a bid to firm up its online streaming services.

gavazam@businesslive.co.za