a “zero-hours” contract… for thousands and thousands of hours

Jack Staunton writes on his work in a call centre compiling government market research surveys

When drunk we feel a strange kind of tiredness. Not the exhaustion of physical exertion nor the sleepiness which dusks in the late evening, but rather a cloying, dulling hibernation of the mind. This same sensation is brought about by endless hours of repetitive workplace routine.

No-one has ever sincerely smiled this much while wearing a headset

I have worked well over a thousand days at the call centre. I have read through still more thousands of surveys. The call centre does not test us physically or mentally yet it is a massive drain of human energy and vitality.

The idea is to collate telephone surveys for various government departments. We ask businesses how much training they do, if they need more government support, what they think the answer to the recession is. Every survey is unique yet they are all the same: half-arsed and self-contradictory fragments of ideas, answering what they think they are meant to say to a bunch of questions which tell them what they are meant to say. Continue reading “a “zero-hours” contract… for thousands and thousands of hours”

report of london call centre workers’ meeting

by Jack Staunton

On Saturday evening two dozen call centre workers from around London attended a meeting to discuss how we can best organise together. Although in the UK there are now some 750,000 people working in various types of call centre (such as sales, service calls and market research), very few are unionised. Employment is often very precarious, and the high turnover of staff in many workplaces means it can be difficult to organise, even though semi-casual work on low pay, along with management behaviour and petty rules, give plenty of reasons for us to do so.

The meeting took place as an extension of the AGM of the CWU branch at the Pell and Bales charity call centre in Old Street. Workers from another Pell and Bales site, as well as CCA International (sales), IFF (market research) and Listen (charity fundraising) attended to share experiences of standing up to zealous managers and recruiting people to the union, as well as to plan ahead to co-ordinate our organising initiatives. Continue reading “report of london call centre workers’ meeting”

hmrc call centre workers plan strike action

by Steve Ryan

Workers in HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) contact centres have voted massively to take strike action. Interestingly in a time of recession, the strike is not about pay, but conditions. Over the past few years the government policy of handing over public services to private sector managers (usually failed ones ) has led to a deterioration in working conditions, call centres being a prime example.

The centres are desperately understaffed meaning workers are micro-managed to achieve impossible turn-around times. Toilet breaks etc. are strictly monitored and bosses swan around with walkie talkies to chase up workers who appear to have been off line too long. Even so only half of calls are answered and a recent TV programme on HMRC was deeply critical of the service provided. Continue reading “hmrc call centre workers plan strike action”