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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.