Dr. Rene Ofreneo, Professor at the School of Labor and Industrial Relation, University of the Philippines, an article co-authored with Mr. Christopher Ng and Ms. Leian Marasigan, in an article published in the IJIR, (Vol. 42, No. 4, April 2007, noted:
“Call center agents are dubbed ‘professionals’ or ‘managerial employees’ and are made to believe that they are a class apart from the working population and do not need the services of a union given the supposedly high wages they are getting. And yet it is abundantly clear that these agents need a union or an organization to defend their welfare and advance their collective interests just like any group of workers. Some urgent issues which should galvanize the call center employees are the following:
– How to have a say on the labour process, e.g., on the determination of call quotas, on the number and length of breaks, etc.
– How to make work conditions in the call centers more bearable and humane, e.g. Setting the temperature just right, having ergonomic chairs and cubicles, etc.
“And yes, employees should have a say on tenure, discipline and grievances. On tenure, why are employees not regularized and why are they hired on a project-to-project basis? On discipline, are the work rules, e.g. on electronic monitoring, reasonable and made known to employees? Why should call center agents be classified by some centers as ‘managerial employees’? To ease the process of terminating unwanted or erring agents? Is the principle of due process – in meting disciplinary actions and serving suspension/termination orders — understood and respected in the industry? There are reports that some expatriate American managers even try to impose American-style firing-at-will practice, which is a ‘no-no’ in both Indian and Philippine industrial relations setting.
“As to grievances, a good company, whether unionized or not, should have a system of hearing and processing employee complaints and grievances. But how is this possible in a place where work is almost hundred percent dedicated to servicing global clients and where interaction within the office is very limited (with agent’s movements limited to the trips to the rest rooms or to the coffee makers or, in the case of a few centers, to the nap rooms)? How can employees raise their concerns about the following:
– Health and safety,
– Career pathing and development,
– Skills development and personal advancement,
– Savings for the future,
– Having a social life,
– Raising a family, and
– Long-term occupational or job security.
“Employees should be allowed more discretion on how to handle calls instead of requiring repetitive and rigidly scripted responses. The mass production style of call center operations require employees to finish calls within 4 minutes or so — longer call times in international call centers shorter for domestic call centers (Batt, et.al. 2005). There is strict implementation of the Service Level Agreements (SLAs), which are part of the contract between the call centers and client firm. SLAs specify both qualitative and quantitative criteria for calls, including call volumes, abandonment rates, call handling times, etc. In a research (Batt, et.al. 2005), managers from international and domestic call centers in India were asked how much discretion do workers have in terms of daily tasks, pace of work, work methods and interaction with customers. Around 60-78 per cent of managers said their employees had little or no discretion over these things.
“Very few call centers use problem-solving groups or work team approaches. Large call center outfits in particular are seen as more impersonal. As a result, they are harder to manage, often have higher levels of turnover and have more workers experiencing alienation. In smaller call centers which usually cater to domestic rather than international markets, there is more opportunity to develop closer relationship among employees and managers and adopt more flexible work arrangements (Batt, et.al. 2005).
“It is interesting how some studies in India reveal that workers show resistance to highly monitored workflows. Some employees who know precisely when they are monitored maximize rewards by working ‘better’ than when not monitored. Others are able to creatively resolve customer problems by manipulating procedures, despite the company’s requirement on the use of scripts. Still others give false or ‘hoax’ solutions to clients just to meet the speed requirement or escape irate customers or calls that are more complicated (Taylor and Bain, 2005).