Call Centers: Boon or Bane?

Despite the outward glamour and relatively high salaries offered in call centers – things that are valued by many college-level youth nowadays – there are some painful trade-offs affecting call-center agents.

BY PIO VERZOLA, JR.
Northern Dispatch
Posted by Bulatlat.com

BAGUIO CITY – Despite the outward glamour and relatively high salaries offered in call centers – things that are valued by many college-level youth nowadays – there are some painful trade-offs affecting call-center agents.

Here are some of the more direct concerns and problems that have arisen from the phenomenal growth of call centers.

1. Night work for women workers

The Labor Code (Article 130) prohibits women to work in night shifts, since night workers are exposed to more work-related problems than daytime workers.

Among these problems, which put women at a disadvantage, are the following: greater risks and difficulties in commuting at night or in the wee hours of dawn; adverse effects on the body of recurring changes in sleeping and meal hours; and limited interaction with the family and social circles.

The problem is that the peak need for call center agents in the Philippines are at night, which corresponds to workday hours in Western countries where most client calls originate. Thus, women call center agents have had to be exempted from the coverage of the law, just like female hospital and media workers.

Among Convergys employees, for example, 70 percent were on night shift because the company followed Eastern Standard Time. Convergys says it implemented some measures to minimize such problems.

*For working in night shifts, employees were paid differential pay at 20 percent of the hourly rate, on top of the basic salary.
*Shifts were changed every three months, presumably to give ample time for employees to readjust their biological clocks to their new schedules.
*Pregnant employees were exempted from night shifts.
*The company held a quarterly “Family Day” where employees brought their family members to the workplace “to appreciate the job.”

To ensure the commuting safety of employees, call center firms have adopted various measures, such as: being escorted by security guards up to where they can take a ride; designation of pick-up points; and taxi or shuttle service.

2. Change in lifestyles of call center agents

In another trade-off, working in a call center may be high-paying but maddeningly stressful and monotonous. Working in non-standard hours is stressful enough. Moreover, call-center tasks often require repetitive routines of answering questions and working at computers more than seven hours daily. Call center agents are obliged to mask their real emotions and Filipino accents, even in the face of unreasonable demands and insulting remarks by foreign callers.

Call center firms have adopted a few measures to help employees cope with stress. These include office parties, raffles, cheerful work station décor, and gaming rooms and lounges where employees can unwind during breaks and after work.

3. Labor-only contracting

Article 106 of the Labor Code gives employers the freedom to “out-source” (to contract out jobs and services) as a valid business strategy despite the outcry of many labor organizations.

The Code bans (as unfair labor practice) only one type of contracting – illegal “labor only” contracting (ILOC). This is the case if the labor contractor does not have enough capital (tools, equipment, machineries, work premises), and the workers supplied by the contractor are doing tasks that are directly related to the firm’s principal business.

Otherwise, labor-only contracting is legal. If the contractor or subcontractor fails to pay the workers, then the law says that the principal employer shall be liable to the claims of the workers. But what about call centers which have main offices outside the country? It remains unclear who will pay the workers if the subcontractor is unable to do so.

4. Union organizing difficulties

While the Labor Code guarantees basic union rights for all workers, unions have found it difficult to organize call center agents. The common reasons given were most call center agents are “yuppies” (“young professionals”) who work in graveyard shifts and easily transfer from one firm to another.

A UP SOLAIR study reports, however, that a majority of surveyed call center agents were interested in joining unions. The respondents said they wanted better negotiating positions to compensate for the negative impact of night shifts and intense work pressure on their health. They also encounter intense work pressures.

Although difficult, union organizing among call center agents can be done. One such call center agents’ union is that of the Standard Chartered Bank. Call center agents appreciated their membership since their type of work required “different terms and conditions of work.” Northern Dispatch / Posted by (Bulatlat.com)

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