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:
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:
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.
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: email@example.com or PO Box 24697, London E11 1YD.