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Australia Offshore call centre operators open up about what it's like working on the other side of the call

22:55  28 november  2019
22:55  28 november  2019 Source:   abc.net.au

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After finishing college, Jake Concha spent 10 years as a call centre worker for several Australian companies including Telstra and Dodo and US firm JPMorgan Chase.

He is now a full-time trade union organiser for call centre workers in the Philippines and is visiting Australia as part of the Human Rights Defenders Program in Sydney.

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Mr Concha said the call centre industry was the second-biggest employer in the Philippines.

"Your job is technical support, customer service and sales as well. They call them super agents because you have to answer multiple questions," he said.

"It's not just sitting around drinking coffee and eating snacks while they are taking in calls, it is a really hard job for us, especially as [English] is not our mother language."

Low wages, high stress

On average, Mr Concha said workers earned 14,000 pesos ($300) a month.

"It's a bit higher pay compared with other Filipino workers but, for the job that we're doing, the stress and the issue around safety and health is not good," he said.

"You're answering calls that mostly have issues or a problem, you sometimes get scalded on the phone, shouted at, the stress is really bad."

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He said Australians were relatively nicer than Americans.

"Definitely, but still they usually think that people on the phone are lesser people, especially if they know that they're not from Australia," he said.

"People curse call centre agents, and I had colleagues called a monkey, 'you don't know how to use this computer, you are a monkey,' and things like that."

He said he has repeatedly experienced racism.

"Yes, definitely, multiple times, especially when I was working with JP Morgan Chase," he said.

"It's a bank, and it's really a stressful job because it's about money — so they would say, 'you don't even have that money' … things like that."

Mr Concha said the work had a significant impact on his mental health.

"I experienced clinical depression and, because of their work, a lot of my colleagues have been diagnosed with depression and psychological disorders because of … the stress that they're getting from working."

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He said workers suffered interrupted sleep because they worked across different time zones, and were also expected to share head phones, which led to the spread of colds and flus.

He said some work places refused toilet stops outside of lunch breaks.

"They have to keep it in for a long time and … a lot of people get urinary tract infections, it really affects everyone's health."

Companies need to take responsibility

Mr Concha said Australian companies using overseas call centres had a responsibility to care for their offshore staff.

"We all know that they're offshoring jobs to minimise cost of operations, but … if I work in Australia and experience a particular benefit, then a worker in the Philippines should be experiencing the same benefit since we're doing the same job, it's just that we're [in a] different location," he said.

He hoped Australian companies followed the lead of recent employment law changes in Europe.

"I've heard that a new law is happening in France — the due diligence act — where companies doing offshoring [are] responsible about the law that they have in their mother country," Mr Concha said.

"So, possibly we should have that companies [that] follow particular laws in their home countries, should follow the same law [they] have at home.

"So if we have a minimum wage, particularly for Australians, that should also be experienced by Filipino workers who are doing the same job."

In a statement to the ABC, a Telstra spokesman said it was important for the company to attract and retain top talent in markets in which it operated.

"A priority for us is ensuring the compensation and benefits we provide are fair and competitive in each market, including the Philippines," the spokesman said.

"We regularly participate in independent industry surveys to ensure we retain a competitive advantage and we're also accredited by the Philippine Economic Zone Authority, which is the regulating body of the information, technology, and business-process-management industry."

Dodo was also contacted for comment.

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