|Issue No 85||23 February 2001|
Acoustic Shock Cases Tip of the Iceberg
By Noel Hester
The response to a Melbourne Express story on acoustic shock in call centres suggests we may have only seen the tip of the iceberg as more and more cases of this new industrial injury emerge.
The new daily was inundated with letters this week following a lead article which suggests 100,000 call centre workers at risk of acoustic shock in Victoria.
Acoustic shock occurs when call centre workers are subjected to sudden loud noises such as from a fax line through headsets. It can lead workers with depression, headaches and other health problems.
The Express published a full page of letters - some from recalcitrant bosses defending the status quo - but the great majority stories of pain and suffering from call centre workers.
'I started to experience a high noise level in my right ear, constant buzzing, sometimes lack of balance, headaches, sore right shouilder and constantly in some sort of pain that I knew had to relate to the earpiece,' wrote one correspondent, Elisa Lo Giudice.
'The pain I felt was like someone jamming a pen into my ear. I felt the headaches and the pressures of a busy environment,' wrote Daryl Scobie. 'In a normal 10 hour day I would take a 100 calls ranging between two and 10 minutes.
ACTU President Sharan Burrow says State Labor governments can play a leading role in improving conditions in call centres by signing the charter and minimum standards code launched by the ACTU late last year.
'The emergence of this health hazard is a reflection of the draconian conditions that exist in some call centres. We want State Labor Governments throughout Australia to show the way for industry by agreeing to a minimum standards code, ' she says.
In Britain British Telecom has already paid out 90,000 pound to one worker suffering from acoustic shock. Union lawyers are representing another 83 BT employees who are suffering from the disorder.
In a refreshing contrast to Australian employers British Telecom recognises the potential harm from such noise interference and works closely with the union movement on research into its causes.
Doing it with Nappies
Meanwhile, Britain's TUC has published a report - It's Your Call - which says many call centre staff still work long hours for low pay and in poor conditions. The TUC found that call centre staff earn nine thousand pounds less than the national average wage.
It also found cases of management prerogative gone crazy, including the boss who ordered the staff member taking the longest toilet breaks to wear at daiper.
Call centres in Britain employ over 400,000 people - more than in the coal, steel and manufacturing industries put together. Turnover or 'churn rates' are believed to be as high as 40-60%. Unionisation in call centres is 44% although this is skewed by high rates in the public sector.
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Last Modified: 15 Nov 2005