Do Not Call Register leaves telemarketing industry on hold

The establishment of a $17 million Do Not Call Register threatens the local call centre industry, according to the Australian Teleservices Association (ATA).

The ATA said yesterday the Do Not Call Register will lead to a weakened contact centre industry and may cause job losses after legislation was passed last week.

It attributes this to an expected million registry listings in the program's first week, which it says is caused by the industry's image as intrusive telemarketing campaigners.

However, a study conducted by industry analyst callcentres.net says the industry's image, which the ATA claims makes employee recruitment difficult, is unjustified. The research, dubbed the 2006 Australian contact centre industry benchmark study, reveals that from 516 call centers only 12 percent had outbound telemarketing as their primary activity.

Of these telemarketers, 15 percent are initiated offshore by foreign companies, which make an estimated 2.8 billion calls annually.

Nationally, the registry will affect an industry worth $10 billion and employing about 250,000 staff across 3700 contact centers, according to the study.

But the ATA says enforcing the Registry code (which lists fixed-line and mobile phones) on foreign companies will be near impossible, despite their legal inclusion.

"It will be difficult to enforce the Australian legislation offshore," the ATA said in a statement. "The 2.8 billion [foreign telemarketing] calls per year, despite being legally bound by the Register, will be almost impossible to enforce."

ATA executive director Michael Meredith said for the Register to be effective, it must focus on stemming overseas telemarketing.

"With Australians receiving such a large volume of unwanted calls from overseas telemarketers, I can only emphasize the importance of using the Register to capture data that could potentially help develop future strategies to reduce the number of overseas centres calling Australia," Meredith said.

The ATA says the Register will lose effectiveness due to the number of telemarketers given exemptions, including registered political parties, independent members of parliament and candidates, charities, religious organizations, educational institutions (for calls made to students, alumni or alumnae) and government bodies.

"The efficacy of the Register will be diminished because charities, government agencies and political parties are to be exempt, and these groups make up a significant portion of telemarketing activity," it said.

Meredith added that while the legislation will improve the industry's image, the Register must not inhibit productivity.

"The Register should not become a barrier to those many centres operating in an ethical manner; it should address the concerns over the potential downside for the contact centre industry." he said. "Also, it's important that the government makes it easy for the industry to comply with the legislation, such as finding a cost-effective and simple way to filter lists through the Register."

Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts Helen Coonan agreed, saying the legislation must be practical.

"It is important that we get the detailed operational arrangements right to make sure that a workable register is developed," Coonan said.

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