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Two call centre workers’ meetings in London April 20, 2010

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Two important meetings took place on Saturday 10th in the capital as call-centre workers met to discuss the campaign for union rights in their industry.

First, the CWU Pell and Bales Section AGM, where the guest speaker, a CWU rep from a Docklands-based telecoms firm talked about how he and his engineer workmates won union recognition in 2003.

He explained how when he started work there,  there was no union. But soon there was a core of a few activists that started to  organise  and they found that the biggest recruiter to the union was the management. There were a lot of grievances, particularly with pay.

London engineers could not understand why it was that their London weighting allowance and shift allowance were tied up in their pay, yet their pay matched that of engineers doing the same job in Manchester. “I know that Central London is in Zone 1,” he told one manager, “but what zone is Manchester in?”

As the campaign intensified, management offered a shift allowance of £2,000.  But this was seen as a victory and workers confidence grew and the CWU members at Telecity won recognition in 2003.

Buoyed by references to Mark Serwotka’s , the PCS union leader, interview in the Guardian, headlined ‘Call centres are the new dark satanic mills’, the AGM resolved to campaign for pay increases across all sites, oppose cuts in hours for zero hour staff and press for recognition.

The AGM was followed by the Call-Centre Worker meeting. Casual zero hour contracts were a real problem. Leading off the discussion, a worker from a market research company, told of how the company has no work for their agents for six weeks.

A guest speaker from the Right To Work Campaign, also a bus driver and Unite rep in London, spoke about how important Busworker has been in organising workers and hopes to make links with Call-Centre Worker. He also encouraged those assembled to sign up for the Right To Work Emergency conference in May, which he believed would be vital in organising resistance to whichever Government tries to attack workers living standards and public services.

An editorial board of eight workers in the industry was elected for Call-Centre Worker. As Call-Centre Worker expands, we hope to get more call-centre workers involved on the board.

Share your experiences on this blog anonymously; write to londoncallcentres@gmail.com.


Combative spirit as CWU activists meet March 31, 2010

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The first conference of CWU reps in the non-recognised sector epitomised the spirit of the new, young and combative activists in the movement beginning to make a serious challenge to the old bureaucrats that currently dominate the Telecoms Executive and Branches in the union.

One of a number of guest speakers, Professor Phil Taylor, Strathclyde Univeristy, set the tone for the conference by railing against BA union-buster Willie Walsh. He explained how our class is facing a serious attack on our services and education. Neo-liberal workplace models were developed in call-centres, and activists in these workplaces needed to organise. Increasingly the call-centre models with targets and performance management are being used right across industry and more so in the public sector. (more…)

Working with NL recruitment March 22, 2010

Posted by callcentreworker in charity calls, trade union.
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NL Recruitment is an agency that specialises in recruiting staff for many employers in the Call-Centre industry such as Sky and Morgan Stanley. NL advertises positions for workers in Customer Services, Fundraising, Tele-Marketing in London, Surrey and the North East.

Pell and Bales is one of NL Recruitment’s major clients in London.

Feedback from callers with NL is mixed.

One new caller said of NL that “they are very friendly and always happy to help with any problem you may have”.

Another caller was unable to attend the final training and NL was able to reschedule this with P&B.

However, there have been some problems with NL.

  • NL gave some new callers the impression that they had got a job with Pell and Bales when they were confirmed for training. It was only when arriving at Pell and Bales that they discovered that they would have to pass training.
  • Many callers are confused by the pay and holiday structure and would like a document that explained this in more detail
  • A separate company ISS provides the payroll service for NL. They are based in Guernsey and therefore have no UK tax liabilities. ISS does however tax callers employed by NL. NL callers, not NL, have 4% of their wages (the lowest in Pell and Bales) deducted for this “service”. That is why it is important that NL callers ensure that they claim their holiday entitlement and retain train and bus tickets, as travel costs can be claimed back. It is possible to claw back more than the 4% lost this way.

The issue of Pell and Bales using an agency who in turn uses an offshore payroll company that charges low-paid callers was raised by the CWU at a Staff Reps meeting a few years ago. Initially management told us that if they established that an agency they used charged callers for the payroll service they would end the contract with that agency. Once they had spoken to NL, at the following Staff Reps meeting they said that NL callers could be potentially better off. NL Recruitment became the sole agency for recruiting callers when Pell and Bales in-house recruitment team was disbanded in April 2009.

Our position is that if ISS are not paying UK tax, they can afford to waive the fee charged to NL callers and pay the lowest-paid callers a decent rate, decent holiday entitlement and re-imburse travel costs.

The CWU continues to campaign for all agency callers to be paid at least the London Living Wage, as recommended by the Mayor of London’s office of £7.60 per hour

If you are an agency worker at Pell and Bales and need some advice– let us know.

Demonstrate for Carphone Warehouse workers July 11, 2009

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Demonstrate! for trade union freedom, the right to organise and secure jobs for everyone!

Carphone Warehouse have victimised two members of the Communication Workers Union for organising a union and standing up for their rights at the Wednesbury Logistics Centre in the West Midlands.

Sulinder Kumar (sacked) and Kulwinder Plaha (under discipline) for standing up for justice at work. Support is needed from trade unionists, the general public, and Carphone Warehouse customers!

Sat 18 July, 2009 – We are organising transport from London.
Contact Pat Carmody: 07913 701042,
Marching through Wednesbury to Carphone Warehouse!

report of London call centre workers’ meeting June 16, 2009

Posted by callcentreworker in charity calls, market research, trade union, working conditions.
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by Jack Staunton

On Saturday evening two dozen call centre workers from around London attended a meeting to discuss how we can best organise together. Although in the UK there are now some 750,000 people working in various types of call centre (such as sales, service calls and market research), very few are unionised. Employment is often very precarious, and the high turnover of staff in many workplaces means it can be difficult to organise, even though semi-casual work on low pay, along with management behaviour and petty rules, give plenty of reasons for us to do so.

The meeting took place as an extension of the AGM of the CWU branch at the Pell and Bales charity call centre in Old Street. Workers from another Pell and Bales site, as well as CCA International (sales), IFF (market research) and Listen (charity fundraising) attended to share experiences of standing up to zealous managers and recruiting people to the union, as well as to plan ahead to co-ordinate our organising initiatives. (more…)

13th June organising meeting June 3, 2009

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There is a “Campaign for Call Centre Workers’ Rights” meeting taking place from 6pm on Saturday June 13th.

The Communication Workers’ Union branch at Pell and Bales charity call centre in Old Street has opened its annual general meeting to workers from other London call centres, and we will be discussing how to organise in our own workplaces as well as how to work together.

The meeting takes place at the Artillery Arms, 102 Bunhill Row (near Old Street station) from 6pm.

What’s it like at Pell and Bales? April 15, 2009

Posted by callcentreworker in charity calls, strike, trade union.
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– What work is done at P+B?

Pell and Bales run a call centre that mainly, although not exclusively, makes calls on behalf of Not-For-Profit organisations. In the main, we raise funds on the telephone for charities, although P&B have been known to have contracts with commercial clients. Although P&B have a number of competitors, if you have been called by a charity, it is most likely that the call came from a Pell and Bales employee. (more…)

Carphone Worker blog April 15, 2009

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Carphone Worker is a site from members of the Communication Workers Union working at Carphone Warehouse, TalkTalk, Opal, Carphone Networks, Geek Squad – the Carphone Warehouse Group PLC.  The CWU is a 240,000 strong union for workers in the communications industries, with several hundred members working for the Carphone Warehouse group.  We want to work with the company, to give members a real voice at work where their opinions are taken into account.

See http://www.carphoneworker.co.uk/

OCIS workers secure pay increase after lock-out March 31, 2009

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50 Unite Union members at the OCIS call centre in Auckland, New Zealand stood strong on Friday night after their employer locked them out of their workplace. The lock out came after three weeks of wildcat strike action by workers.


Small groups of, nearly all teenaged, interviewers and supervisors had been regularly walking off shift, especially during unpopular weekend shifts. Scuffles broke out and the police turned up Friday night as officials and members attempted to rush the door to the call centre.

The lock out followed the first ever general stop work meeting of market researchers where union delegates from across Auckland and Hamilton and a represtenative from the National Union of Workers in Australia voted for united action against OCIS for attempting to win $30,000 in damages from the union. The damages were for, among other things, Unite calling OCIS a shadowy multinational.

By Saturday afternoon the lock out was over after a settlement was reached that included: higher rates of pay, better job security and payments to locked out union members equal in value to the amount lost as a result of the lock out. As part of retaliation for the lock out the union had released information that members had been doing secret research on whether the public wants the return of nuclear ship visits.

Interview about the Synovate workers’ hunger strike March 31, 2009

Posted by callcentreworker in market research, new zealand, strike, trade union.
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On 25th-26th February over twenty workers at the market research call centre Synovate in New Zealand (which also has a UK branch) mounted a 24-hour hunger strike to protest at being on the minimum wage, lack of breaks and zero job security. The workers are organised in New Zealand’s Unite union, which has organised the Supersize My Pay campaign. We spoke to one of the union’s organisers, Omar Hamed.

What are working conditions like at Synovate? What work is done?

Working conditions have been quite poor but are improving a lot with the union’s presence. The call centre is often noisy, workers complain that the air-conditioning makes it too cold and the carpet is often infested with fleas. Workers are given very little direction on how to prevent RSI and how to reduce the risk of back and neck strain. People commonly complain about sore ears or eyes in the call centre.

The bulk of the work is market research interviewing for large multinational corporations that operate in New Zealand.

How are the workers organised? What is management’s reaction?

Workers are organised as members of the Unite Union’s Calling for Change campaign. We have meetings around once a month, send out newsletters and have elected delegates.

At first the management called the police when we tried to access the call centre but they realised the law allows us to have access to talk to workers and have eventually allowed access to staff. They are bound by good faith as we are to bargain with us and we have negotiated with them and are continuing to negotiate a collective agreement with better wages and conditions with Synovate.

How did the hunger strike come about?

The hunger strike was a novel way to protest the low wages that we thought would be better than n ordinary strike so that union members would not lose money that they need in these harsh economic times.

What was its resolution?

We are continuing to negotiate with Synovate and hope to achieve a fair settlement for union members.

What can Synovate workers in the UK do to help you? What can be learnt from this dispute?

Organise. Organise. Organise. Wherever call centres are workers must be organised. Synovate workers in the UK should join a union like the CWU and put pressure on their company fo better wages and conditions. Eventually we should seek to get one big union agreement for call centre workers the world over. We’ve learnt that disputes are important because they put pressure on bosses to settle agreements because they do not want the embarassment of their employees protesting outside their building. If we never fight, we will never win.