The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent Gem of Exploitation

Liam O Ruairc

“Customer Care Centres” are a growing industry. Increasing number of people end up working in call centres and webcall centres, often on the basis of temporary contracts. The present writer had the experience of working for two months in a Belfast based global email company outsourcing work for Amazon, an online store where consumers order DVDs, books and CDs. This global email company is a typical example of a customer care centre, there is probably better and worse than this company. The two months spent there on a temporary contract (supposed to last at least three months, paid £5.50 per hour before tax, no sick pay) were an interesting experience that gave a good insight about what goes on in this industry.

The most striking thing is the sort of management culture that exists in this email company. The company tries to put across a “people friendly” image, it seeks to convince that life in the company is “relaxed”. It went as far as to invite Jack Straw to visit this workers paradise. But the reality is that this pseudo-conviviality conceals an authoritarian, rigid and repressive system. It is a “total institution” based on generalised “panopticism” as Michel Foucault would have put it. Everything is being closely monitored and under constant surveillance. It is halfway between the prison, the school and the factory. Every time you go to the toilet or go out, you require a special pass to open the door. The microchip in the pass records what time you entered the room and what time you left it - just to remind you not to spend too much time out there... Some employees received emails warning them to watch what they are saying, as the supervisors did not appreciate their sense of humour. Employees are encouraged to inform on one another. All movements are being closely monitored - being two minutes late leaves you with a warning. Curiously, this rule does not apply to team leaders who can arrive twenty minutes late if they so wish…Worse of all are the so-called “supervisors” and the “team leaders”. They have absolute power over you - without being accountable to anyone, and can make your life a misery if they so wish. This writer was unfortunate to fall under one of the worst kind of supervisors, a woman called Caroline G. Had this woman been given a uniform and a little more power, she would have sent children to concentration camps. She would use the slightest excuse to bother you. Any company has rules and regulation, but what was peculiar about this one was the extreme rigidity of how the rules were being interpreted by those petty servants of capital. The GEM does not treat its workers like employees, but like school children. It has the most patronising management culture this writer has ever experienced.

A lot of those practices were able to go on because of the lack of mobilisation by the people working there. Most are on temporary contract, and if they showed any resistance, would be fired on the spot (that happened last year). The company also holds on to ten percent of their wages until they leave - the threat of them keeping this money is real enough. There is a division between those who work there on a real contract and those who are on a temporary one. Also, the people there are divided among different teams (,,, …) working different shifts, and have little or no contacts with each other. So if workers decide to take action, it could very quickly be contained to a particular group or team. The practice of the company is to “individualise” everything. There is no transparency. There are no weekly meetings between elected representatives of each team and the management. It goes without saying that the company does not recognise trade unions. The present writer tried to argue that even if trade unions are not recognised, those working there should be in contact with the unions in case something happens. People working in this global email company are already isolated enough and need contact with the wider world.

Three hours before our Christmas dinner, the management told us that our whole team - temporary workers as well as full timers - was being sacked. The reason given was that it was not profitable enough. This writer was not surprised; this fits in well with the rest of the company’s practices. Perhaps one may have expected the company to have the decency not to tell us the news three hours before a Christmas dinner… Bizarrely, we had a conversation two days before that, where I warned the other employees that something like that may happen if we had no contact with trade unions.

The lessons to be learnt from this two months experience is that this is likely to repeat itself not just in the email company outsourcing work for Amazon, but in all “customer contact” centres unless workers organise and fight for their interests. Campaigns could also be organised, where consumers would boycott (or bombard the companies with protest emails) the companies that have such practices. It is time we organise!






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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love.
- Hamilton Wright Mabie

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Index: Current Articles

2 January 2003


Other Articles From This Issue:


From Pig to Man and Man to Pig
Tommy Gorman


Up the IRB, Down the Amazon

Seaghán Ó Murchú Gem of Exploitation
Liam O Ruairc


The Tyranny of Christmas
Anthony McIntyre


Eat, Drink, Be Merry
Brendan O'Neill


The Silence of the Left
Henry McDonald


When the Falls & Shankill Marched As One
Davy Carlin


19 December 2002


Take It With A Pinch Of Salt
Tom Luby


Victory 2016 plus 40 - Remember to Read the Small Print

Anthony McIntyre


The Men of No Property
Liam O Ruairc


Relatives of Republican Prisoners
Orlaith Dillion


Dirty Politics
Carrie Twomey


Henry McDonald, “Irish Anti-Semitism” and the Zionist Roadshow
Brian Kelly


Arrests in London of Turkish Hunger Strike supporters




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