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Tues 27 April 2004

'Big Brother' surveillance dominates Scotland's call centres

UNISON Scotland has uncovered shockingly high levels of unwarranted surveillance by bosses in Scotland's contact (call) centres. A recently commissioned survey into the nature and extent of monitoring of centre staff revealed that 67% of Scottish call centre staff have had phone calls monitored, 82% have had email monitored and 62% have had computer usage monitored.

The electronic monitoring included not only their work-related communications but also private communications. Respondents claimed that calls from family members were monitored, even when they were clearly of a highly personal nature and one respondent claimed that her team manager printed an email she received describing an urgent family crisis including personal medical details.

Dave Watson, UNISON's Scottish Organiser for Utilities, said ''We have been concerned for a number of years that surveillance of staff in Scotland's contact centres was becoming more invasive. However, even we had not anticipated the intolerably high levels of unwarranted monitoring of staff that this survey revealed.

"Perhaps most worryingly, there is little evidence from this survey that employers are adopting the principles set out in the Employment Practices Data Protection Code (EPDPC) or that they understand the damage this level of staff concern has on morale and performance"

The most worrying results from the survey came when respondents were asked what impact the monitoring had on them. 'Demeaning' was the most common response with more than half finding monitoring stressful.

Over 70% suffered from different levels of anxiety with 17% suffering from depression and over 52% of call centre staff stated that they had considered resigning as a result of excessive monitoring in the workplace. This figure reflects a recently published report on the UK call centre industry (IDS Report 2003), which highlighted that over 60% of Scottish based call centres had problems with retaining staff.

This figure is in stark contrast to the 25% of UK call centres that had experienced retention problems.

The key points from the survey were:

* There is an unacceptably high level of surveillance in Scottish call centres, including monitoring private communications.

* Where workplace polices on monitoring exist they are poorly explained and have failed to convince staff that monitoring is justified.

* Staff generally regard monitoring as demeaning and cite it as causing high levels of psychological distress.

* Monitoring of staff has a significant negative impact on recruitment and retention.


Note for Editors - The survey involved 230 interviews with UNISON members. The survey was randomly drawn from members in customer facing posts mostly (70%) in the private sector. Whilst the survey was commissioned by the energy and water industries the sample included members in other services. Interviews were undertaken during the period October 2003 to January 2004 using e.mail, telephone and face to face contact.

Further detail on the survey is available on the UNISONScotland website http://www.unison-scotland.org.uk/briefings/privacysurvey.hrml or from Chris Bartter on Michael Byers (Numbers below)

For Further Information Please Contact: Dave Watson (Scottish Organiser- Utilities) 0845 355 0845(w) 07787 558 410(m) Michael Byers (In formation Development Officer) 0845 355 0845(w) Chris Bartter (Communications Officer) 0845 355 0845(w) 0771 558 3729(m) 9


See also