Socialist Worker

Call centre workers stand up and fight

by Dave Owens
Issue No. 2247

Around 7,000 call centre workers are set to strike on Monday of next week against the appalling working conditions they are forced to endure.

The workers, who are in the PCS civil service workers’ union, are based in 37 Jobcentre Plus centres around Britain.

More than 2,000 of them struck in January against plans to turn their offices into call centres.

Now thousands more workers in offices that were already call centres have voted ­overwhelmingly to fight to improve conditions.

Staff are angry because management’s attacks are making it harder for them to deliver the vital service.

The employer’s obsession with reducing call times results in a rotten service for the often vulnerable people who ring the call centres.

Workers have effectively been threatened with disciplinary action for providing too good a service by talking for too long.

The PCS group executive in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) last week voted unanimously to begin the campaign of industrial action with a one-day strike.

This will be followed by action short of a strike and more strikes, although no further dates have yet been set.

The union has made intensive attempts to find a settlement. The only reason that action wasn’t called a week earlier is because management seemed prepared to make concessions.

It has become now clear that this was simply a delaying tactic. Management have now reneged on earlier promises.

This dispute has wider implications. The Jobcentre Plus contact centre directorate is the biggest virtual network in Europe—and is seeking to compete for work with other government departments.

Since its inception it has attempted to import the worst practices of the call centre industry into the civil service.

If bosses are allowed to succeed then attacks on conditions can be expected elsewhere in the public sector.

Staff also suspect that the erosion of conditions is intended to make the work more attractive to private contractors.

The call centre model is attractive to employers because it is cheap. This strike should be seen as a beacon for call centre workers in the public and private sector from Bootle to Bangalore.

The dispute cannot be separated from the general fight against the Tory cuts.

It counters the lie that such workplaces cannot be organised.

Dave Owens is a member of the PCS DWP group executive and a call centre worker in Liverpool. He writes in a personal capacity.

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Article information

Tue 12 Apr 2011, 18:33 BST
Issue No. 2247
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