Low wages and poor working conditions in call centers are failing to reflect the number of university educated and skilled professionals working in the industry, a new report finds.
Answer the Call: Raising wages and professionalism in call centres, released by UNI Global Union, marks the beginning of UNI Call Centre Action Month - 31 days of campaigning on behalf of call centre workers around the world. The report analysed wages and professionalism in nine countries with important call center industries. The report found that despite the fact that in the majority of countries surveyed more than 50 per cent of call center workers had received a university education, wages rarely reached higher than 60-70 per cent of the national average. Of the nine countries analyzed, France had the highest proportion of university educated call center workers, at 72 per cent, but wages were just 64 per cent of the national average.

Some two-thirds of all interactions between companies and customers today take place in call centers via groups of highly trained, professional workers. The job of a call center agent requires an array of skills that take months to master, including being able to absorb new product knowledge, manipulate databases, and communicate effectively with a variety of clients. Some jobs, such as providing service advice and diagnostics for technology companies, require even more highly specialized knowledge.

UNI Global Union Head of ICTS Alan Tate said, “Employees with critical roles in this valuable industry should be compensated above – not well below – the national average wage. These men and women are professional workers who are well-educated, well trained and skilled in serving their customers diverse needs.”

In the United States, around 60 per cent of all call center employees have attended at least a year of university, and in Netherlands, 52 per cent, the report says.

In India, more than 60 per cent of centers hire primarily university educated staff and call center wages are higher than the national average. However, the average Indian salary is low with 22 per cent of Indians live on less than 32 rupees (55 US cents) per day in urban areas and 27 rupees (45 US cents) in rural areas.

Research shows that call centers with union contracts have higher wages – median annual pay in centers with union presence is about 7 per cent higher than non-union centers. In addition, workplaces represented by unions tend to invest more in training, place limits on performance monitoring, and have negotiated rules for sales and performance. The average turnover rates in unionized call centers are also 40 per cent lower than non-union sites worldwide.

Tate added, “Our message to these workers is simple; the evidence shows that joining a trade union leads to higher wages, more investment in training and better job security.”

The report points to the Netherlands as an example of how to improve conditions for call center workers and businesses alike. Although wages are still low, at 75 per cent of the national average, the Dutch industry has instituted a system of certificates and quality standards that focus on customer service and thus increase professionalism. Continuous monitoring of workers is almost unheard of, and the use of a script is mandatory in only about 25 per cent of center.

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