for Scotlandís call centres
Call centres are increasingly used as the key
point of contact between service users and providers in both
the public and private sector. It is estimated that some 46,000
staff are employed in 220 call centres in Scotland. This makes
the sector larger than traditional employment in mining, energy
and water combined.
Whilst the rapid growth of recent years is slowing
down there is little evidence to suggest that the much hyped
rise of e-commerce will significantly replace call centre employment.
Instead call centres are developing into all-purpose contact
centres incorporating the internet and e-mail alongside telephone
Finance, communications, IT and utilities sectors
have well established call centre operations in Scotland. The
new growth areas are in the public sector with local government
and the NHSiS being encouraged to develop call centres through
the Scottish Executiveís 21st Century Government
Working practices in call centres are very different
to traditional clerical jobs. The pressure to provide faster
and more immediate responses using pre-prepared scripts, together
with call monitoring systems have resulted in some call centres
being described as "modern sweat shops".
As a major call centre union UNISON Scotland wants
to work positively and in partnership with employers in ensuring
best practice. We do not wish to dwell on the negative issues,
but are determined to ensure that all call centres are brought
up to the standards of the best. Providing employees with their
rights and ensuring that call centres in Scotland are comfortable
and healthy places to work in.
In this Charter we highlight six key principles
that should raise the standards in Scotlandís call centres.
* The need to ensure pay levels are fair, equal,
and recognise levels of unsociable hours, flexibility and performance.
Competition between companies and increased union organisation,
particularly in Glasgow and Edinburgh, has helped to improve
pay levels. Whilst there are significant regional variations,
Scotland now has some of the best pay rates in the UK outside
However, there are still pockets of low pay with
poor recognition of unsociable hours, flexibility and dubious
performance related pay schemes. Some call centres have introduced
so called personal contracts which are not Ďpersonalí, seek
to hide pay inequality and often include pernicious clauses
which limit employee entitlements.
Fairness at Work
* Call centres should have a positive approach
to a work life balance. With a high incidence of non-standard
hours and a predominantly female workforce, there is a need
for fair recruitment and selection procedures that minimise
bias. Measures to address work life balance should be introduced,
including special leave and childcare. Many call centres operate
unnecessarily rigid shift systems that militate against flexible
working. Harassment and bullying should be addressed with procedures
and training which ensures that all staff are treated with respect.
* The production line approach which has been
a feature of call centre working practices should be replaced
by a positive commitment to job design. Providing staff with
a variety of work, multi-skilling and varying job roles together
with the safety issues covered below will address some of the
major concerns of call centre staff.
* The opportunity to join a recognised trade union.
This should include proper recognition of workplace stewards
with the facilities to negotiate with management on working
conditions and represent their members in grievances, discipline
and related issues.
Training and Development
* Comprehensive induction programmes followed
by development training based on needs, with the opportunity
to develop broader skills and obtain recognised qualifications.
Working in a call centre requires a good knowledge of the services
provided by the organisation, how the computer systems work
and how to deal with customers. Good call centres understand
that properly trained staff feel more secure and a training
and development programme can alleviate the often high turnover
Health and Safety
* Specific Health and Safety risks must be addressed
through comprehensive risk assessments of the working environment,
workstations, monitoring systems and workplace stress.
Call centres have particular health and safety
risks related to being seated for most of the day often in a
poor working environment with the stress of dealing with calls
under close supervision and monitoring. Noise induced hearing
loss, voice loss and musculo-skeletal disorders are not uncommon.
A trained union safety representative is a vital element of
a pro-active safety structure.
This Charter aims to ensure that our members know
what they have a right to expect as well as ensuring that employers
treat call centre staff properly. Raising standards requires
a partnership between employers, their staff and their trade
unions. We hope this Charter will help promote best practice
For further information see:
Holding the Line: UNISONís Guide to Making Call
Centres a Better Place to Work.
or UNISONís own call centre, UNISONdirect on www.unison.org.uk/direct
tel: 0800 5979750
Health & Safety Survey