If you have been frustrated in your dealings with call centres, spare a thought for those who work there. These modern-day sweat shops could do much to improve working conditions and make their staff feel less like slave labour
More than 400,000 people work in call centres which now employ more people than the steel, coal and car industries put together. And it is estimated that call-centre workers will outnumber teachers and farmers by 2001. They are staffed mainly by women in the 20 to 30 age group.
According to Datamonitor, by 2001, one to three per cent of Europe's working population will be employed as call centre agents.
Call centres are one of the fastest growing industrial sectors in the UK and have been hailed as the saviour of British jobs. However, working practices and conditions vary and rates of 50 per cent staff turnover per annum are common. Some call centres have churn rates of 80 per cent and rates of 100 per cent or more are not unknown. They are frequently described as sweat shops employing slave labour.
Over the past few years, the attitude towards occupational stress in call centres has been changing. Under the UK Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HASAWA) employers have an obligation to provide both a safe place of work and, as far as reasonably practicable, a safe system of work.
The most common threat to employee safety these days is not from accidents or physical violence but from what is now known as psychological violence - in other words, stress.
Call centre stressors
There is constant pressure on call centre employees to meet tough call handling targets. This is accompanied by marketing pressure as many call centres are now in the forefront of "selling the product" which includes cold calling. This should be seen against a background of aggressive performance monitoring and call handling standards.
Additionally, the business is conducted via the telephone while using screen display equipment, which is a high risk combination for musculoskeletal problems. Being seated for most of the working day involves risk to the back and upper limbs if workstations are not designed to suit individual workers.
Call centre workers, when interviewed by the union MSF, had many complaints.
- They feel intimidated by managers and imposed targets
- They have decreased enthusiasm
- They feel nervous