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  Issue No 64 Official Organ of LaborNet 28 July 2000  




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Phone Rage, Headaches and Stress

By Noel Hester

A comprehensive survey of the call centre industry conducted by the ASU has revealed an industry workplace culture dominated by excessive monitoring and stress.

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The survey results are a sobering reminder that beneath the glitzy fa�ade of this new, hyped, hi tech industry there are serious human problems that are being neglected by statistics-obsessed management.

Over half of respondents reported they were very stressed. A third took ten or more days off per year due to work related stress. 87% said stress was a workplace issue and 40% said they suffered from work related health problems such as headaches and eyestrain.

Stress came from a myriad of factors including oppressive call monitoring, equipment breakdown, and unsupportive managers. Phone rage was also a serious problem for workers who had to cop the flak for poor decisions made by company executives.

Employees had their own ideas about how call centres could be improved: managers listening to workers ideas and suggestions, a decreasing emphasis on statistics, a better management attitude and more support and training.

The survey covered workers in 658 union and non-union call centres. It was analysed by Monash University's Key Centre for Industrial Relations.

The survey results were announced as call centre workers from around Australia gathered in Melbourne this week to launch a campaign for a new national award.

The campaign was launched by new ACTU President Sharan Burrows. Sharan's involvement underlines the importance the new ACTU leadership gives to building union organisation in the new hi tech areas of the economy.

Australia has more than 4000 call centres employing about 160,000 workers. Industry forecasts predict the sector will grow by 25% per year.

ASU National Call Centre Coordinator Colin Lynch says the ASU campaign for a new award covers all states and focusses on contract call centres.

'Call centre employees are crying out for unions and for more rights for workers. They have a right to an award like anyone else. At the moment there are no minimum conditions for many workers in this growing industry,' he said.

Despite the serious problems in the industry employees maintain a bright attitude towards their careers. They see themselves as customer service professionals and expected to be treated as such.

Fiona, an employee for one of Australia's major call centre operators says call centres would be good places to work if they were unionised, conditions were improved and the oppressive environment was changed.

'If a good call centre can set up a career path and management treated call centre agents with respect and gave them direction there would be reason to be positive about the job. You wouldn't be thinking 'I've got to go to work and face these hundreds of calls,' she says.

'Unionising call centres is critical to achieve this. Now I can't talk freely. I can't stand up at work and say - 'these problems need to be sorted out.'

'Stress, call monitoring, the pressures of 7 day a week, 24 hour rosters, career paths and flexiblity for families are issues the industry has to face up to,' says Colin Lynch.

'A national award would go some way to addressing these issues for employees in a fair way.'

'Our survey reveals a high level of dissatisfaction with management among employees. This is reflected in the high turnover rate of staff. This is bad for employees and employers. Industry research has revealed each employee that leaves costs the industry $11,000.'

'An award gives minimum conditions for employees. Employers will no longer be competing on wages. An award will also give recognition to the skills required in a call centre.'

ACTU President Sharan Burrow said call centre management put workers under extraordinary pressure.

'Instead of focussing on the needs of staff and customers, call centre employers have a big brother obsession with call volumes, monitoring and statistics,' she said.


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*   Issue 64 contents

In this issue
*  Interview: Greg Sword Unsheathed
The NUW national secretary is set to be endorsed as ALP Federal president next week. He talks about the relationship between the two wings of the labour movement.
*  Unions: Phone Rage, Headaches and Stress
A comprehensive survey of the call centre industry conducted by the ASU has revealed an industry workplace culture dominated by excessive monitoring and stress.
*  Economics: And the Winner Is .... Sydney?
Austrade chief economist Tim Harcourt looks at the export impact of the Sydney Olympics and asks if we'll win gold.
*  International: Western Sahara: Referendum Or War?
A June UN referendum in Western Sahara could have provided the people of Western Sahara a chance to exercise their right to self-determination and independence. It didn't.
*  History: The Union's Roots in Song
We look at some of the songs that kept working people going through their darkest hours.
*  Media: Unchaining the ABC
The ALP needs to rethink our public institutions to determine how they might better deliver the ends for which they were originally established.
*  Environment: Motorways Fail the Pollie Test
Our daily grind of congested roads, polluted air, and frustrated motorists is putting all and sundry to the test, and not least Liberal and Labor politicians.
*  Satire: Murdoch Launches Bid for Under-9s Netball Team
Sydney's lucrative junior league netball broadcasting market has been shaken by a bid by one of the world's most predatory entrepreneurs, Rupert Murdoch, to secure ownership of the most successful team in the league.
*  Review: Espionage a Trois
The Whitlams' brass section his teamed with some of the hippest cats in Sydney to make the sort of music you'll want to shoot baddies to.

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»  The Soapbox
»  Sport
»  Trades Hall
»  Tool Shed

Letters to the editor
»  Viva Eavesdropping Jonesy
»  Globalisation and Maintaining Our Lifestyle
»  Crappiest Music Feedback

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