Scared for their safety at work

Unite demands action from findings in Covid-19 call centre safety report 

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Unite, representing staff working in call and contact centres across the financial services sector, has today (June 4) called for urgent action following the publication of a report into Covid-19 within the sector. The survey finds that most staff fear they will either contract or pass on Covid-19 to loved ones – through being at work.

Only last month UNITElive reported on the worries and stresses that our members in banks were under, providing a key service to communities – with management not taking their safety concerns seriously.

The survey of nearly 3,000 staff working in call centres throughout the UK found massive alarm among the workforce over safety conditions within their workplaces.

The independent research was conducted by Professor Phil Taylor of the University of Strathclyde and aimed to gather data from a large sample of contact centre workers about their experiences and perceptions of hazards.

The report found that 47.2 per cent surveyed ‘strongly agreed’ and 30.7 per cent ‘agreed’ with the statement: ‘I think it is likely that I will catch Covid-19’. At the same time, over 90 per cent either ‘strongly agreed’ (68.6 per cent) or ‘agreed’ (22 per cent) with the statement, ‘I am worried I will give Covid-19 to family or friends’.

The survey also revealed distancing concerns with 37.8 per cent of respondents stated that they were seated less than the required 2 metres; with one in six (16.4 per cent) reporting that they were a mere 1.5 metres distance away or less.

One in two reported their seating arrangements meant that there was often only a short distance and a relatively low panel separating facing colleagues.

Difficulties are exacerbated by workers’ movements throughout the floors, where corridors and walkways are often narrow. Almost three-quarters (73 per cent) believed that social distancing when moving around the building was either ‘hazardous’ or ‘very hazardous’.

And actions by management have not impressed them much – with 45 per cent considering management to have been either ‘ineffective’ or ‘very ineffective’ in ‘taking the necessary steps to ensure social distancing’.

Many workers understandably want to work from their homes. In fact 65.2 per cent said that they had requested to work from home but of those that had asked to do so only 4.8 per cent had had their request approved – while 31.7 per cent were rejected. The majority, 63.5 per cent, were still awaiting a decision.

“Since the start of the Covid-19 crisis the staff in contact and call centres have worked tirelessly as key workers to serve customers, often despite their own safety fears,” commented Rob MacGregor, Unite national officer.

‘Scale of fear’

“The scale of the fear among call and contact centre staff is stark to see from this report. Workers in the finance sector are calling out for their employer to do more to keep them safe during this public health emergency.

“Employers from banks and insurance companies must consider this report urgently and re-double their efforts to keep their workforce safe. Urgent discussion between employers and trade unions must be stepped up,” he added.

The research concludes that homeworking at this time has undeniable advantages and would “take call handlers and back office workers out of a working environment that is perceived as very dangerous, freed from the toxic combination that is at work”.

It goes on to add that evidence in the report demonstrates unequivocally that “working from home will eradicate “the flaws of social distancing,” as well as “the inadequacies of cleaning and sanitisation, the palpable risks of hot-desking, the stressful nature of increased and demanding workloads all combined with the baleful, probably dangerous effects, of sub-optimal or malfunctioning HVAC systems in open-plan, densely populated offices makes homeworking a necessity, not an optional benefit”.

“Organisations now have an urgent responsibility to re-assess the configuration of their services and swiftly home locate those many who are in a position to do so and want to,” believes report author Professor Phil Taylor.

“Rapid action will save some lives. Inaction will cause further deaths and serious illness,” he added.

But Unite is firmly on the case. “Unite reps will be raising the findings of this research with employers and pressing for action to ensure the highest possible safety of our members as they work hard to serve finance sector customers,” concluded Rob MacGregor.

Compiled by Amanda Campbell @amanda_unite

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