Union organising in call centres

Issue 

@9point non = BRISBANE — High work pressure, staff turnover, intrusive management monitoring of workers' performance and alienation were identified as major issues facing call centre workers, at a May 22 forum organised by Worklife.

Bob Russell, a Griffith University researcher, explained that call centres have been one of the fastest growing sectors of the Australian and world economy, with some 4000 centres currently employing around 250,000 workers in Australia. Companies and governments use call centres to cut costs by reducing the need for face-to-face customer service.

Katrina Barben, a phone counsellor at Kids Helpline, outlined issues facing workers in this critical area and explained that union organising was important to protect wages and conditions.

Jim McIlroy, a former Community and Public Sector Union delegate in Centrelink, related the challenges facing unions organising in public service call centres. Constant pressure for increased productivity and more complex work have caused rising stress levels and a need for strong union activity, he said.

Australian Services Union organiser John Kelly described the extreme management practices in many private companies, leading to increased competition between workers. He said the union had achieved some "good wins" in private call centres by organising outside the sites before moving openly into the workplace.