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Call centre workers required to work despite being in non-essential roles

Call centre - Image credit: Fotolia

Call centre workers required to work despite being in non-essential roles

Call centre workers are being required to work despite being in non-essential roles, a survey has found.

More than half (57.1 per cent) of call centre workers surveyed have been designated as essential and are still working, but only 17.9 per cent of those believed they are essential.

Over a third continue to be required to work despite not being told they are essential workers.

Tasks being undertaken by those considering themselves to be non-essential include mortgages, credit issues, PPI complaints, logging complaints, posting mail and sales.

The survey of over 2,000 call centre workers across the UK by Professor Philip Taylor of the University of Strathclyde also raised concerns that social distancing measures have not been put in place in many call centres.

Only a third of workers reported that their employer was successfully implementing workplace distancing.

Half of all workers surveyed said that they are working face to face with a co-worker, while over a third have been required to have face-to-face team meetings with a similar number describing being required to engage in team ‘huddles’.

Three-quarters were not provided with hand sanitiser, over half were dissatisfied with the cleaning of work surfaces and two-thirds were concerned about the sealed ventilation systems exacerbating the spread of the virus.

Two-thirds of respondents had requested to work from home, but only two per cent were given permission to do so.

Taylor said: “This survey lifts the lid on the nightmare being endured by many agents, with insufficient social distancing, multi-occupation workstations, overcrowded lifts, poor sanitation, re-used headsets, heating and ventilation systems spreading germs.

“Open plan office environments and face to face working will spread the virus and the evidence suggest that by and large home working is being denied.

“But alongside bad practice, there is exemplary behaviour where some employers are being highly responsive to requests for supportive home working and are implementing good procedure. 

“We need a levelling up of practice and we need it urgently. The more workers complete surveys like the more likely we are to achieve that.”

STUC General Secretary designate Roz Foyer said: “No one doubts that many call centre workers are essential, frontline workers, they provide important advice and keep whole parts of our infrastructure going. 

“But many others are working despite not undertaking essential roles.

“This reveals just how many non-essential call centre workers are being forced to carry on at a risk to themselves and the wider public.

“Even where workers are essential vital safety precautions are not being taken. 

“People report being crammed into lifts, working in environments with no proper ventilation, working face with colleagues and being required to continue to have meetings and ‘huddles’ face to face. 

“As well as this damning survey, we have had contact from MPs and MSPs across Scotland dealing with complaints from worried call handlers who have no union to represent them.

“We do have some examples of unions successfully negotiating and improving upon these issues, but it remains an uphill struggle in a sector where long-running concerns exist over management practices.

“We call on every call centre in Scotland, unionised or not, to offer immediate access to union health and safety reps to conduct a full assessment of working conditions in the sector.”

The SNP’s fair work and employment spokesperson, Chris Stephens MP, said: “Many call centre workers are essential, providing important services to keep the world turning.

“However, many others are not and should either be working from home or if that is not possible, then they should be furloughed.

“It is the responsibility of employers to determine who is essential, using government guidance, furlough people or make provisions for people to work from home where possible.

“For those who are essential in call centres, and who do need to go into their place of work, then employers must ensure social distancing is implemented to reduce the risk to workers and the wider public.

“I am urging call centres in Scotland and across the UK – including UK government departments and their contractors – to assess their working conditions and determine who really is essential without delay.

“Employers who are still forcing employees – including employees deemed to be at risk – to come in unnecessarily must take action immediately to protect and support staff.”

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