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  Issue No 85 Official Organ of LaborNet 23 February 2001  

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News

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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In this issue
Features
*  Interview: Tony Abbott – Workers' Friend?
The new Workplace Relations minister relives his own union background and explains why he’s really just another worker at heart. Honestly.
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*  Politics: The Politics of Petrol
Australia might be burning, but is it a fire that can be brought under control?
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*  Organising: The Battle of Campsie
SDA delegate Maria Kavaratzis recounts how the Campsie Big W has been transformed into a union shop.
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*  History: Scabbing Through the Ages
Neale Towart looks back at how popular culture has treated those workers who have not considered themselves part of the collective.
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*  International: Diary of a Showdown
The Korean Metal Workers Federation recounts a week which culminated in violent attacks on workers outside the Daewoo factory.
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*  Economics: Debt Dumping Campaign Enters New Phase
The millennial deadline might have passed, but Jubilee 2000 is not giving up the fight for debt cancellation for the world’s fifty-two poorest countries.
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*  Health: The Real Drug Wars
As Africa attempts to deal with the HIV crisis, access to the medicines that can relieve victims’ suffering is emerging as a major humanitarian issue.
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*  Satire: Liberals Claim Triumph in Queensland
John Howard has claimed the Liberal Party’s decimation in Western Australia and Queensland as a triumphant vindication of his party’s embracing of the national competition policy.
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*  Review: Beyond a White Australia
As we ponder the One Nation renaissance, a new book challenges the current debates around xenophobia and the perceived threat of danger from Asia.
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News
»  Labor To Move on Outsourcing Scams
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»  Opera Workers Join Freeloader Chorus
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»  Independent Eyes for Asbestos Deal
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»  Employment Records Must Be Protected
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»  Workers to Float Down Oxford Street
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»  Competitive Tendering Hits Welfare Sector
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»  Violence Hits Indonesian Dispute
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»  Locked Out, ‘Cause The Boss Won’t Talk
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»  New Laws To Protect Carers
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»  Acoustic Shock Cases Tip of the Iceberg
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»  Teachers Fed Gives Free Membership to Students
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»  Miners Union Calls for ‘Community Dividend’
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»  Hanson's Nursing Plan Bad for Health
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»  Refugee Plight Focus of NESB Network
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»  Unions Pause On New Safety Laws
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»  Heavy Handed Tactics Leave Speedo Workers Exposed
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»  Activists Notebook
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»  Vale: Charlie Fitzgibbon (1922-2001)
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Columns
»  The Soapbox
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»  The Locker Room
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»  Trades Hall
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»  Tool Shed
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Letters to the editor
»  No Shrinking Violet
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»  Service Fees a Cop Out
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»  Not Quite Right on Discrimination
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»  Explaining it to Pauline
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»  The Canada Bay Debacle
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