THOUSANDS OF call centre workers across the north west of England could ballot from next week for strikes over threats to their jobs. They work for Reality, which is part of the retail and business multinational company Great Universal Stores.
It is the biggest call centre employer in the region, with thousands of workers across sites in Widnes, Burnley, Leeds, Bolton, Preston, Worcester, and Newtown in Wales. The workers, members of the Usdaw union, fear that Reality bosses outsourcing work to India could mean job cuts.
Many British companies like British Airways, Debenhams, Dorothy Perkins, Top Shop, Royal and Sun Alliance, Bupa, Harrods and Churchill Insurance use call centre services in India. A call centre worker there gets an average annual wage of £1,300.
Reality started diverting some of its calls at peak times from its offices in Britain to call centres in India four months ago. Workers say since then managers have been asking them to go home during quieter periods.
A Reality worker in Burnley told Socialist Worker, 'The calls were diverted from the enquiry lines and order lines but not the smallest section, telemarketing, where workers make calls out. We weren't told anything. There is worry about our jobs especially from some of the older workers. I think people are up for action over jobs. Some people have just joined the union because they want as much backing as possible.'
The workforce includes Asian and white workers. This means there is the opportunity to undercut any moves to whip up racism over the dispute.
'There are many Asian workers in here. We all feel cheated at what's happened. Black and white together we can stand up to it,' says the Burnley worker. Workers at the Burnley centre on permanent contracts get just £5.75 an hour. Great Universal Stores (GUS) also exploits workers in Swaziland in Africa who produce clothes for the company.
The Clean Clothes Campaign criticised the multinational over working conditions and repression of unions. GUS declared pre-tax profits of £552 million in June. Reality has made £4.5 million this year.
A strike would deliver a blow to a multinational that rakes in money off the backs of workers in Britain and around the world.