LabourNet Germany

Home Index Über uns Suchen Termine

Case: Call Centers –

The Reality of this Promising Job Market of the Future for Women“

Examples of Union-Based Resistance from Two Countries


Karen Dowling

Call Center Ireland


My name is . I am a member of the national executive council of the communications workers union in the republic of Ireland. My union has approximately 2o ooo members, which is considered a large union in Ireland. We represent the majority of workers in the Irish Post Office and in the Irish Telecom Company.

I.e. we have 8o% of the membership in Eircell, the mobile phone subsidary of Telecom Eireann. We have also organized workers in two other major call centers. One is owned by the post office parcel service - SDS and the other is known as TSS which is a customer service company run by irish telecom.

The call center phenomena is new and does not have existing staff representation structures. However in the past this work was predominantly performed in house by the parent company and has only recently been outsourced by a large number of companies. One of the effects of this approach is that it allows the companies to bypass the existing collective agreements in the parent company, that could mean lower wages and an increase in the number of temporary part time agents. Traditionally a lot of these parent companies are unionized.

In my union I work with the organising officer as part of an organising team to provide information to call centre employees about our trade union - in Irish law you have a legal right and also a constitutional right to join a trade union. And we also inform them about their rights in the workplace with particular reference to health and safety, maternitiy leave, annual leave, national agreements and on equality issues - (bullying, sexual haracement, job sharing) and any other legislation that directly affects agents in their workplace.


Specific concerns to us in call centers:


I do not wish to paint a very bleak picture of call centres in Ireland. We welcome these jobs into our country because they povide important work for young people. However it  is important that this industry is regulated so that the workers are provided with the same conditions, the same pay determination and the same health and safety and general legislative protection that workers receive in other industries.

We are aware that many companies in Europe, in particular Germany, have moved their coustomer services to Ireland by establishing call centers. They have done this to avoid paying high wages and to avoid union organised labour.

There are approximately 42 new call centers in Ireland, most of them situated in Dublin city. There are over 15 ooo workers in these call centers. 75% - 8o% of the employees are women under 3o years of age.

The turnover of staff is enormous as workers suffer from burn out. 6o% of staff in Irish call centers leave within a year. A European commission survey of call enters in Ireland, UK and the Netherlands revealed that many workers left after 6 months having suffered from repetitive brain strain.


Public Sector/Semi State Conditions

In Eircell where we have most of our members, they operate on teams and people can aspire to become a team leader. These teams meet before each work period to discuss their progress and their productivity levels. Starting pay is  8 555 Irish pounds, 21 25o DM a year, 1.77o DM a month, 11,8o DM per hour, but there are incremental scales above that. In other call centers where we spoke to the young workers, they informed us that pay was only 8 ooo Irish pounds approximately. However supervisors and team leaders could earn approximately   12 ooo Irish pounds,   3o ooo DM a year.

 We have negotiatied with the company arrangements where there will be full consultation on the introduction of any new technlogy, a reasonable space of time before dealing with each customer on the headphones. We have made arrangements where workers have some time away from the phones and video screens to perform other duties. Where they have reasonable breaks, so as to reduce the level of stress  We are also in negotiation with this company on issues such as job sharing, parental leave in order to make their work familiy friendly.

One of the most imprtant negotiations that we carried out was an emplyee share ownership plan, ESOP, in the parent company, Telecom Eireann and also in  Eircell the mobile phone subsidary. After one year´s full emplyment each worker qualifies to receive shares from the company. These shares mature over a 5 year period and we have set up an employee share ownership trust which owns 14,9% of the company. As a trade union we believe it is important that as well as receiving pay workers should enjoy other reward schemes such as share options in the place where they work. However we are realistic enough to know that this is highly unlikely in most companies.

Working conditions in private companies

In the last couple of years my union took a decision to organise workers in the private sector of our industry, the communications industry. As part of this decision we have been making efforts to organise workers in call centres.

In the private sector success has been limited because of the hostile opposition of these companies to union organisation with the result we have

  1. not organised sufficiency to seek union recognisition.
  2. Our members are not in a position to declare their union membership.

Whilst the technology in the prevate sector may be advanced, the overal conditions are somewhat bleak.

I.e. they would tend to have a lower wage structure than is found in the public/Semi State sector.

We are concerned having spoken to some workers, about health conditions in particular the stress factor related to pressure of the work. In one particular case people were monitored with regard to how many times they went to the toilet and also were told that they should not spend more than 3 to 4 minutes on a visit to the toilet. There should be decent relaxation areas and the should try to lessen the monotony. Workers have stressed to us the need for them to have a greater role in running the centres and to be consulted on the working conditions to make them less stressful. However it would be honest to say that most of these companies will not respond to the wishes of the workers.

Some young Geman women who have joined our union in the UPS call centre complained about the heating never working and having to wear their overcoats during the winter.

At Management level, although the majority of agents working in Call Centres are women, in the Information Technology sector, it is 60:40 in favour of men and 50:50 in some Call Centres. However it should be remembered that female employees are 75% to 85% of the workers.

The CWU is an affiliate of the communications international and that international is launching a major drive to organise people in call centers later this year. As part of that campaign we will be earmarking many call centres in Ireland to try to organise the workers. Be assured that our campaign has strengthened over the years,and we intend to put a lot of resources to make every effort to organise these people who are mainly women.

LabourNet Germany:
Der virtuelle Treffpunkt der Gewerkschafts- und Betriebslinken
The virtual meeting place of the left in the unions and in the workplace
Index Datei: