Call Centres: What Kind of Future Workplaces?

In July 2000, URCOT, at the RMIT School of Social Sciences and Planning, prepared a monograph for the Victorian Trades Hall Council:

Call Centres: What Kind of Future Workplaces

The following is the EXECUTIVE SUMMARY of the report:

  • Call centres have been recognised, in North America and Europe as well as Australia, as one of the fastest growing workplaces of the 1990s. They have a mixed public image, being described by some as contemporary 'sweatshops', and by others, as positive examples of modern workplaces.
  • It has become apparent that behind all the statistics and the discussion about employment growth within the industry, there is a pattern of employee dissatisfaction emerging which is reflected in the high turnover of staff. High levels of stress, a lack of definitive career paths within the industry, working conditions and wages are all common concerns held by workers in the call centre industry.
  • A research team from RMIT School of Social Sciences and Planning and Victorian Trades Hall Council has initiated a major program of research on call centres. This has included focus groups with employees in a range of private and public sector employees in Victoria.
  • One of the most striking findings of this research was the difference between experience and attitudes of workers from different centres. While the majority reported that their overall experiences as call centre workers was neither enjoyable nor positive, there was a minority of centres, both in the private and public sectors, where employees were very satisfied with their work and working conditions.
  • There appears to be a reasonably strong identity connected with employment in the call centre industry. A majority of participants felt a stronger sense of belonging to a 'call centre industry' rather than to their individual employer, even when this was a particular company and not a contracting call centre. This was less true of public sector employees.
  • Call centre staff work predominantly under tightly monitored and inflexible work conditions. The negative employment experiences of many call centre workers are influenced and shaped by a multitude of factors, many of which are causally related. These can broadly be broken into the following areas:
    • Unreasonable and unrealistic targets
    • Insufficient frequency, duration and timing of breaks
    • Staff not being paid for overtime
    • Strict and unreasonable monitoring of work time
    • Inflexible leave arrangements
    • Lack of incentives to meet goals set
    • High rates of staff turnover and low staff morale
    • Career and training prospects
    • Occupational health and safety issues
  • The unions representing the call centre industry need to address some fundamental issues. They need to educate workers so that they can make the decision to join the union, knowing what the union can do for them. Also, they want an active union that provides leadership and vision for their workplaces, and at the same time, can protect their interests.

The full text of the URCOT paper [pdf] can be downloaded here.

Last amended February 2015