Care Centres are a growing industry. Increasing
number of people end up working in call centres and
webcall centres, often on the basis of temporary contracts.
The present writer had the experience of working for
two months in a Belfast based global email company
outsourcing work for Amazon, an online store where
consumers order DVDs, books and CDs. This global email
company is a typical example of a customer care centre,
there is probably better and worse than this company.
The two months spent there on a temporary contract
(supposed to last at least three months, paid £5.50
per hour before tax, no sick pay) were an interesting
experience that gave a good insight about what goes
on in this industry.
most striking thing is the sort of management culture
that exists in this email company. The company tries
to put across a people friendly image,
it seeks to convince that life in the company is relaxed.
It went as far as to invite Jack Straw to visit this
workers paradise. But the reality is that this pseudo-conviviality
conceals an authoritarian, rigid and repressive system.
It is a total institution based on generalised
panopticism as Michel Foucault would have
put it. Everything is being closely monitored and
under constant surveillance. It is halfway between
the prison, the school and the factory. Every time
you go to the toilet or go out, you require a special
pass to open the door. The microchip in the pass records
what time you entered the room and what time you left
it - just to remind you not to spend too much time
out there... Some employees received emails warning
them to watch what they are saying, as the supervisors
did not appreciate their sense of humour. Employees
are encouraged to inform on one another. All movements
are being closely monitored - being two minutes late
leaves you with a warning. Curiously, this rule does
not apply to team leaders who can arrive twenty minutes
late if they so wish
Worse of all are the so-called
supervisors and the team leaders.
They have absolute power over you - without being
accountable to anyone, and can make your life a misery
if they so wish. This writer was unfortunate to fall
under one of the worst kind of supervisors, a woman
called Caroline G. Had this woman been given a uniform
and a little more power, she would have sent children
to concentration camps. She would use the slightest
excuse to bother you. Any company has rules and regulation,
but what was peculiar about this one was the extreme
rigidity of how the rules were being interpreted by
those petty servants of capital. The GEM does not
treat its workers like employees, but like school
children. It has the most patronising management culture
this writer has ever experienced.
lot of those practices were able to go on because
of the lack of mobilisation by the people working
there. Most are on temporary contract, and if they
showed any resistance, would be fired on the spot
(that happened last year). The company also holds
on to ten percent of their wages until they leave
- the threat of them keeping this money is real enough.
There is a division between those who work there on
a real contract and those who are on a temporary one.
Also, the people there are divided among different
teams (Amazon.fr, Amazon.de, Amazon.com,
different shifts, and have little or no contacts with
each other. So if workers decide to take action, it
could very quickly be contained to a particular group
or team. The practice of the company is to individualise
everything. There is no transparency. There are no
weekly meetings between elected representatives of
each team and the management. It goes without saying
that the company does not recognise trade unions.
The present writer tried to argue that even if trade
unions are not recognised, those working there should
be in contact with the unions in case something happens.
People working in this global email company are already
isolated enough and need contact with the wider world.
hours before our Christmas dinner, the management
told us that our whole team - temporary workers as
well as full timers - was being sacked. The reason
given was that it was not profitable enough. This
writer was not surprised; this fits in well with the
rest of the companys practices. Perhaps one
may have expected the company to have the decency
not to tell us the news three hours before a Christmas
Bizarrely, we had a conversation two
days before that, where I warned the other employees
that something like that may happen if we had no contact
with trade unions.
lessons to be learnt from this two months experience
is that this is likely to repeat itself not just in
the email company outsourcing work for Amazon, but
in all customer contact centres unless
workers organise and fight for their interests. Campaigns
could also be organised, where consumers would boycott
(or bombard the companies with protest emails) the
companies that have such practices. It is time we
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