Majority of call centre staff in Scotland believe they are non-essential

The vast majority of call centre staff in Scotland who are continuing to work during the coronavirus pandemic believe they are non-essential personnel, a poll has found.

A third of call centre workers are still required to work despite not being essential workers

A survey by the University of Strathclyde found that two-thirds of staff still working in the sector have asked bosses to work from home, with just two per cent of all requests being granted.

Some staff are offering support for mortgages, dealing with credit issues and payment protection insurance (PPI) complaints and others are posting mail, according to research by Professor Phil Taylor.

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Roz Foyer, the general secretary designate of the Scottish Trade Union Congress (STUC), said: “No-one doubts that many call centre workers are essential, frontline workers, they provide important advice and keep whole parts of our infrastructure going.

“But many others are working despite not undertaking essential roles. This reveals just how many non-essential call centre workers are being forced to carry on at a risk to themselves and the wider public.”Call centre staff have also reported face-to-face team meetings and working face-to-face with colleagues, when government guidance suggests at least two metres should be left between people.

Ms Foyer added: “Even where workers are essential vital safety precautions are not being taken.

“People report being crammed into lifts, working in environments with no proper ventilation, working face-to-face with colleagues and being required to continue to have meetings and ‘huddles’ face-to-face.”

Ms Foyer has called on all call centres in Scotland to allow access to trade union health and safety representatives, to allow a full assessment to be carried out.

Professor Taylor said the survey “lifts the lid on the nightmare being endured by many agents”, but praised some employers who showed “exemplary behaviour”.

He added: “Open plan office environments and face-to-face working will spread the virus and the evidence suggest that by and large, home working is being denied.

“But alongside bad practice, there is exemplary behaviour where some employers are being highly responsive to requests for supportive home working and are implementing good procedure.”

Chris Stephens, the SNP’s Fair Work and Employment spokesman, said: “Many call centre workers are essential, providing important services to keep the world turning. However, many others are not and should either be working from home or if that is not possible, then they should be furloughed.

“It is the responsibility of employers to determine who is essential, using government guidance, furlough people or make provisions for people to work from home where possible.

“I am urging call centres in Scotland and across the UK – including UK government departments and their contractors - to assess their working conditions and determine who really is essential without delay.

“Employers who are still forcing employees - including employees deemed to be at risk - to come in unnecessarily must take action immediately to protect and support staff.”

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