The publication of the PCS charter for call centre workers is an important development for activists and members and is intended to increase the strength and influence of the union in this sector of the economy.
The charter is a key set of principles around which the union can campaign and organise to achieve our bargaining aims.
The proliferation of call and contact centres in recent years presents serious challenges for our union, but also opportunities.
The introduction of call centres to deliver key services in the civil service, and non departmental public bodies (NDPB’s) is part of the government’s so-called “Efficiency” agenda, i.e. job cuts and privatisation. They are packaged as a modern alternative to community based services and face-to-face delivery.
In reality they are characterised by low pay, poor application of health and safety practices and aggressive management techniques. This breeds low morale and illness, and high staff turnover putting huge pressure on the existing workforce.
Call centres workers in both the public and private sector regularly face a variety of difficult workplace issues including attacks on pay, inflexible working arrangements, and deskilling from top-down initiatives such as LEAN -which is simply an oppressive time and motion technique.
This is compounded by inadequate training, excessive workloads and a stressful and oppressive numeric target culture.
PCS is fighting to ensure that call centres are operated to the highest possible standards backed by professional training for all staff. Inadequate resources and training will damage the delivery of vital public services to those who need them most.
Call centre workers, like all public sector workers, deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. PCS is campaigning to this end.
To deal with these pressing issues we have established the PCS National Call Centre Forum.
We also want to establish forums in every departmental group. A PCS call centre charter outlining our demands and strategy is a sign of the importance the PCS national executive committee attaches to supporting workers in call centres.
This charter is a statement of demands, principles and policy. Around this charter we must organise and campaign in every workplace. Together, for everyone, we will negotiate from a position of strength to achieve our bargaining aims.
Thanks to all those involved in producing the charter, with particular thanks to John McInally, national vice president and Enrico Tortolano, research officer.
Mark Serwotka, general secretary
Janice Godrich, national president
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 key issues can be grouped into:
All call centre workers pay and conditions should be in parity with the best levels in the civil service.
PCS is determined that members should work in call centres that are exemplars of best practice. This charter identifies best practice and key principles.
Lighting levels must be appropriate to the type of work being carried out. The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992 require satisfactory lighting conditions and an appropriate contrast between the screen and the background environment.
High levels of background noise can cause significant problems for call centre staff, requiring them to turn up headset volumes to compensate. This can be a particular issue where part of a busy general office is turned over to call handling operation.
Assessments should be carried out for every individual workstation. The work surface must be large enough for the work being done and there must be enough space ‘for operators or users to find a comfortable position’.
Headsets should be fitted with noise limiters and volume controls. As call handlers will be wearing their headsets for significant periods of time, it would be good practice to offer a choice of types, including choice between single or double earpiece models. They should be fully adjustable, to enable a comfortable fit to be found.
Most issues relating to hearing are dealt with in the section on Noise above - excessive noise is the most likely cause of hearing damage. The Noise at Work Regulations 1989 require employers to limit workers’ exposure to noise at work to the lowest possible level and to keep daily noise exposures below specified action levels.
There should be free eyesight tests and employer contributions to glasses, before starting work, if needed.
Stress is seen as a major factor in call centre working - and part of the reason for the high turnover of staff across call centre industries. Taking a pro-active approach to stress management and risk reduction can assist employers to retain their trained and experienced staff.
Many call centre roles rely heavily on pre-written scripts that give the call handler little or no scope to introduce their own personal approach to the tasks. This can quickly become very boring and repetitive and should be avoided, wherever possible.
Excessive workloads, tight timescales to deal with individual callers, backed by quantative targeting in call centres will quickly lead to burn-out for many staff. There should be no individual targets. Equally, staff can become bored if they feel that they have insufficient work, or it is not challenging and using their skills.
Staffing levels need to be sufficient to ensure:
Right to form and join a trade union.
Right of trade union to represent workers in:
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