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Raising the Standard

UNISONScotlandís charter 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 based services.

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 programme.

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 Southern England.

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.

Job Design

* 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.

Trade Unions

* 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 levels.

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 in Scotland.

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 2002


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Further Information

Holding the Line: UNISONís Guide to Making Call Centres a Better Place to Work.

Health & Safety Survey 2002