I wonder how loudly David Cameron would celebrate ‘economic recovery’ if he put himself in my shoes, entered my work elevator, and performed a synchronised sigh of unease with my colleagues in anticipation of the day of work ahead? Could he put on his headset, clock in, and forget his depression and low pay, as he’s suddenly switched to a forced and fabricated state of happiness to be at service to customers, hour after hour, call after call?
In terms of exploitation, it could be said call-centres today have increasingly become the factories, mines and mills of previous times as the work is spectacularly characterised by low-pay and appalling conditions. Pervasive is a target culture, exhaustive managerial instrumentation, and a world where “the customer is always right”, as I know from my experience as a sales advisor for a major communication company. Call Centres can be capitalism at it’s bluntest.
Ironically, the work is extremely anti-social. Every call is deemed good or bad depending on its outcome as a sale or not (then recorded on the wall in a tally for all to see and judge). As a result, customers become perceived more as a potential number than a person and, as a worker, your ability to be emotional, empathetic, intelligent and friendly is moulded towards the purpose of making somebody else more money. Additionally, this is governed by the possibility that a manager might be listening to your call, inducing a constant state of anxiety to assure maximum productivity and sales.
Toilet breaks are timed (maximum of 36 seconds per hour) as too is how long you take to record notes once finished on a call before moving onto the next, so that your manager can scream at you if you exceed. Managers are often completely unwilling to discuss any issues you raise and there’s little you can do but be where you are needed to be as dictated by your timetable.
The work is incredibly exhausting, resulting in days off becoming more recuperation than recreation and although many people apply for the job with the intention to be temporary, a means to a better end, it is extremely common for them to slip into a permanent basis.
Call centre workers like all workers need effective fighting trade unions and the trade union movement can build and strengthen from organising these workplaces. According to the call-centre research firm ContactBabel, in 2014 over 700,000 people in the UK are employed in the industry, additionally, more than 6% of Scotland’s workers are call-centre operators. And in an age of technological advancement, these figures are likely to increase.
It isn’t easy to unionise these workplaces as management are aggressively anti union and play upon the conditions that already exist with the younger generation that are increasingly entering these workplaces to receive little to no education about unions, leading to an attitude that can develop that such working conditions are normal and unchangeable.
But where there is exploitation there is always anger and therefore potential struggle, and given the right opportunity no doubt the feelings of call-centre workers will surface and channel into an unprecedented clamour for change. After all, many of the unions we have today were built out of the new industries of over a century ago where millions of workers then were unorganised.
The success and visibility of the Baker’s Union and the Fast Food Rights campaign, which Youth Fight for Jobs and Socialist Party Scotland support, is a good example of a fightback in the service sector.
Central to this is the fight for a £10 per hour living wage as Socialist Party Scotland continues to emphasise.