Call centre workers in Scotland are being put at risk with two in three asking to work from home during the coronavirus pandemic while only one in 50 are having that request granted.

The academic leading the study which "lifts the lid on the nightmare being endured by many agents" shows only one in three say their employer is successfully implementing workplace distancing during the coronavirus pandemic.

The academic leading the study which "lifts the lid on the nightmare being endured by many agents" reveals that three in four are not even provided with hand-sanitiser and half say they are working face to face with co-workers.

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The Scottish Trade Union Congress has called for urgent action after interim results of survey completed by respected Scottish academic and call centre expert Professor Philip Taylor, of over 2000 call centre workers, reveals that while some call centres are getting it right, the majority are getting it wrong.

Over a third have been required to have face to face team meetings with a similar number describing being required to engage in team ‘huddles’.

HeraldScotland: Disharmony at the call centre

Roz Foyer, STUC general secretary designate 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.

“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 with colleagues and being required to continue to have meetings and ‘huddles’ face to face."

While 57.1% of workers still working have been designated as essential only 17.9% of those believe they are essential. Tasks being undertaken by those considering themselves to be non-essential include mortgages, credit issues, PPI complaints, logging complaints, simply posting mail and sales advisors.

The research found that over a third continue to be required to work despite not being informed the are essential workers and over half are dissatisfied with the cleaning of work surfaces.

And two in three were worried about the sealed ventilation systems exacerbating the spread of the virus.

Ms Foyer added: “As well as this damning survey, we have had contact from MPs and MSPs across Scotland dealing with complaints from worried call-handlers who have no union to represent them. We do have some examples of unions successfully negotiating and improving upon these issues, but it remains an uphill struggle in a sector where long-running concerns exist over management practices.

“We call on every call centre in Scotland, unionised or not to offer immediate access to union health and safety reps to conduct a full assessment of working conditions in the sector.”

Professor Taylor at Strathclyde University said: “This survey lifts the lid on the nightmare being endured by many agents, with insufficient social distancing, multi-occupation workstations, over-crowded lifts, poor sanitation, re-used headsets, heating and ventilation systems spreading germs. “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. We need a levelling up of practice and we need it urgently. The more workers complete surveys like the more likely we are to achieve that.”

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