Workers slam greedy bosses
Anger at 1st Line's shutdown
FURY AT job losses erupted in South Wales last week. Workers broke windows at the 1st Line offices in Swansea in anger at the way they have been treated. Without any warning they were informed that their livelihoods had been snatched away from them.
More than 2,000 jobs in Cardiff and Swansea were wiped out at a stroke when the two 1st Line call centres closed. Call centres were supposed to replace the tens of thousands of jobs lost from the pits, steel and engineering in the area during the last 20 years. Now those promises have turned to dust.
"We were thrown out just like the rubbish," said one worker at the Cardiff site. Workers were handed a letter telling them their jobs were finished as they arrived for a shift. Security staff escorted workers, some of them in tears, into the building to clear their desks. Devastated workers at the Swansea site were ordered out of the building at 5pm.
The next day dozens of workers gathered outside the site, bitterly angry at the bosses, who had to be protected by police as they went into the building. Louise Harris, a 1st Line worker from Swansea, told Socialist Worker, "We have not been paid money that was owing us and everyone is wondering if we'll ever see that cash.
"It was no great job. We got 3.60 an hour basic and then the rate was put up to 4.50 if you hit the targets-28 leads for sales in the morning and 22 in the afternoon. You can't have a conscience to do that sort of work. You're ringing up pensioners and trying to sell them a mobile phone which you know they don't really need and probably can't afford. We get told about partnership but I don't see any partnership here. A quick-buck company makes its money and then leaves us to suffer. We've been lied to and betrayed. There are lots of laws that affect trade unions, but the company has just done this to us and can get away with it."
James Cousins, a worker from Swansea said, "Some of the managers told us in a meeting the day before the closure that if we worked hard there would be at least 15 years of work left. Then we have another meeting and they give the lot of us the sack." Union officials from the GMB had a meeting with management a few days before the closure announcement.
Jeff Beck from the union says, "We met having signed a confidentiality clause and were told that if they laid off 150 people they would be able to continue trading. We are very disappointed." 1st Line workers are furious that politicians are not speaking up for them. Andrew Davies, New Labour's Swansea West Welsh Assembly member, was one of those who gave a complacent response to the closure.
"Call centres are a growing sector which is changing very fast indeed and I feel people are being far too pessimistic," he said. But Christine Wilson, aged 52, from Llanelli is one worker whose life has been devastated by the closure. She said, "My husband worked for 1st Line too so we are both out of work now. Where will somebody my age find a job?"
1ST LINE was launched in 1998 with a big advertising campaign and claimed to be "the UK's largest direct mobile phone retailer". It did much of its work for BT and was praised by Labour assembly leader Rhodri Morgan last month for its plans to open a new call centre in Cwmbran.
But it has faced complaints about its methods and treatment of workers. BBC's Watchdog featured the company twice. The GMB union, which has tried to unionise 1st Line, says workers were humiliated if they did not reach targets.
One woman worker was made to stand on a chair with her thumb in her mouth for not reaching targets.