The UK has a million people working in 5,000 call centres. UNISON wants to make sure that the interests and needs of these workers are catered for.
Over the last 10 years, the number of UNISON members working in call centres has risen dramatically.
Estimates say 3% of all UK workers were working in a call centre by the end of 2012.
That’s roughly one million workers in around 5,000 UK call centres, many in areas of historically high unemployment.
Most call centres employ 300 to 700 staff, who work round the clock in shifts – though most work is done between 7am and 10pm.
The use of call centres as the main customer services function is increasing in all parts of the economy, in both the private and public centres.
Pressure is increasing on call centre staff to provide faster responses to more and more callers.
Sophisticated technology has taken the monotony out of many jobs – in call centres it has often done the opposite, chaining workers firmly to their workstations.
UNISON has carried out research on call centre work, published in UNISON Calling – a guide to organising in call centres and launched a Call Centre Charter.
UNISON Calling – a guide to organising in call centres including the Call Centre Charter [pdf]
This focuses on employment issues which are common across call centres and sets out standards including:
- reasonable health and safety levels;
- a good working environment with comfortable work stations;
- flexible working arrangements;
- monitoring systems that aren’t oppressive;
- reasonable training and development;
- a management that consults and listens to workers and their union reps.
To make sure that call centre workers have a reasonable working life, we’re calling for:
- high quality and flexible workstations that can meet individual needs;
- regular breaks away from the screen and phone;
- recognition that health and safety standards need to be regularly checked and maintained;
- recognition of the role and importance of health and safety reps;
- a management that listens to complaints and issues raised;
- access to affordable and healthy food, catering facilities and drinking water;
- good training;
- an environment that minimises stress;
- good pay and flexible working arrangements.
A positive story: Energy staff switch on to learning
While many members working in call centres report problems, there are examples of good practice where employers work positively with UNISON.
The union has signed a national learning agreement with EDF Energy that builds on the success of a local learning project at the company’s call centre in the north-east
UNISON’s popular Energy To Learn project at EDF Energy’s Doxford Park call centre near Sunderland has helped pave the way for a national learning agreement with the energy supplier.
The agreement was signed during the 2012 “adult learners’ week” over the summer, exactly three years after the UNISON project got underway in the north-east.
“We invited different learning providers to our first event so people could have a look at what was on offer and sign up for courses they were interested in,” explains UNISON learning rep Tracey Wainwright.
Around the same time, the branch gave a presentation to senior management detailing the results of its learning survey, which showed that staff were keen to take the chance to develop themselves at work.
An event in adult learning week confirmed the survey findings, with a 30% increase in the number of people taking up company training.
Since then, the project has been running Skills for Life courses in onsite company training rooms, where workers have been able to improve their English and maths before or after their shifts.
But it hasn’t all been about Skills for Life courses.
The project has also organised holiday language lessons, run a very popular course in forensics – which was over-subscribed several times over – and has recently launched a photography course.