01 January 1999

EMPLOYMENT MINISTER Lady Blackstone welcomed a report by industry training body, the Telecommunications Vocational Standards Council. The controversial report, prepared for the TVSC by management consultancy Corfield Wright, condemns the ‘sweatshop culture’ of some call centres. It focuses on the high staff turnover and low morale within the industry and TVSC chairman David Thomas [day job: senior BT executive] acknowledged that call centres have a negative image needful of change: ‘Management practice in call centres continues to attract a bad press which does not match up to the sector’s contribu-tion to business strategy, the labour market and the economy.’ [Typical of this age of spin that the TVSC concedes only that the industry’s ‘image’ and ‘bad press’ need attention -’ buff-up the image and to hell with the core problem!]

Natalie Calvert, chair of the DMA Telephone Council Committee issued a robust defence of the call centre industry following a report from Newcastle University which claimed that thousands are trapped and ghettoised in dead-end jobs. Countered Calvert: ‘The industry has seen tremendous growth due to customer demand over the past five years. Any new and fast-burgeoning industry obviously faces challenges, and the largely female call centre workforce has risen to these with enormous dexterity … our own research into the attitudes of call centre staff and management reveals that 60% of managers are female, showing there are career opportunities for those who want them. By contrast only 33% of managers and administration staff in UK plcs are women.’