Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/541/6264
Call centre charter: A framework for workers' rights
THE PCS union says that call centre workers in DWP take calls from new claimants for benefits such as jobseekers allowance, incapacity benefit, income support ('primary benefits') and maternity allowance, bereavement benefit, carers allowance and industrial injuries disablement benefit ('secondary benefits').
First of all they identify what benefits a customer may be eligible for, and if it is a 'secondary benefit' just send out the claim pack. If it's a 'primary benefit', they have to gather all of the information needed for the claim, take any necessary child support or tax credits action, then book an appointment at the customer's local jobcentre (if appropriate).
This is all important work, with many customers who are very worried and vulnerable. But many call centre managers treat both staff and customers with contempt. The PCS says that, according to the Health and Safety Executive, call centre workers have a right to:
- work in an environment where all the risks to health and safety are properly controlled.
- stop working and leave the area if they think they are in danger.
- inform their employer about health and safety issues/concerns.
- take a rest break of at least 20 minutes if they work more than six hours at a stretch
- an annual period of paid leave.
The PCS, realising that workers have to fight to obtain such basic requirements and that the union has to build a framework for workers' rights in these contact centres, has produced its Call Centre Charter, whose main demands are:
- Call centre workplaces should be pleasant and safe environments - not factory-style production units.
- Decent pay for all call centre workers.
- A 35 hour working week.
- Regular training by professionals available to all staff on a regular basis.
- No deskilling or other civil service type LEAN management techniques.
- All health and safety regulations to be strictly enforced and monitored.
- Through PCS, staff should participate in all decisions affecting their employment.
- No electronic surveillance without union approval.
- Time and office space should be given for trade union work.
- The right to representation and bargaining at all levels.
Provide sufficient staffing levels to ensure: There are enough staff to effectively handle customer calls. Staff are trained to deal with the calls. Cover for leave and other absences. Work and family life balance.
For equality, no discrimination. All staff should be encouraged to join a trade union. This should all be underpinned by a respect for core labour standards as set out in the International Labour Organisation declaration on fundamental principles and rights at work. These include the right to organise unions, to bargain collectively and freedom from discrimination.
The charter also sets out key principles on issues such as lighting, noise, work-station assessments etc. The union has established a PCS National Call Centre Forum and aims to establish forums in every department.
For more details see: www.pcs.org.uk
DO YOU work in a call centre? What are your working conditions like? Are you organised in a trade union? Send your experiences to The Socialist: firstname.lastname@example.org or PO Box 24697, London E11 1YD.
In The Socialist 9 July 2008:
Campaign for a New Workers Party
Socialist Party news and analysis
Socialist Party NHS campaign
Marxist analysis: history
Socialist Party LGBT
Socialist Party workplace news
Shop Workers' Union Usdaw