Unions seek call centre awards


Regulation of the call centre and telecommunications workplace is set to be formalised with the introduction of two new federal awards.

Stephen Jones, assistant secretary for the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU), confirmed the union will be attending two hearings with the Industrial Relations Commission next month (May 6 and 7) in Melbourne to complete the preliminary stages of an award covering the telecommunications industry.

Jones said the award would not cover Telstra or Cable & Wireless Optus, but the many new entrants into the industry.

The prospective award will cover an industry that has previously been unregulated, setting out minimum wages, conditions of employment (with a maximum 38-hour week), 10-day sick leave, carers' leave and long-service leave.

"We don't expect a final award within the next six months, but are hoping to complete the preliminary stages of the award within the next month," Jones said.

The Australian Services Union (ASU) is also in the process of putting forward a new award covering the contracted call centre industry.

Colin Lynch, national call centre coordinator for the ASU, said this part of the industry accounts for about 10 per cent.

"We have exchanged drafts of the award, there are still some controversial issues, but we are currently talking with employer associations. We expect to tie [the formalisation of the award] up by the end of the year."

As an interim measure, the ACTU and six unions representing call centre employees across several industries, have formed a cooperative alliance called Call Central.

The 10-point call centre charter and minimum standards code has been supported by the West Australian, Victorian and Tasmanian governments, with the group still in talks with the New South Wales and Queensland governments.

"The charter would apply to all government call centres and to all companies seeking contracts with the government," Jones said. It will cover wages, conditions, training and occupation health and safety (OHS) issues.

Lynch concedes the charter goes only some way toward resolving OHS issues, as it is only a minimum standards code, bringing minimum regulations to the industry.

Health concerns within the call centre industry have been mounting following an increasing occurrence of 'audioshock' and a test case is being planned by the ASU. (CW February 26, p1)The repetitive-strain type injury, which has not been recognised by medical experts, occurs as a reaction to noise from feedback, fax machines and mobile phones that are directed into telephone headsets worn by call centre staff.

Sufferers experience headaches, nausea, muscle problems, sensitivity to loud noise and degenerative hearing loss.

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