Help just a call away for call centre workers

Tuesday, 25 January 2005, 08:00 Hrs
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MUMBAI: Help may be finally at hand for scores of young call centre industry professionals in India who increasingly fall prey to ailments like insomnia, depression and digestive system disorder due to job stress.

In a first of its kind initiative, an independent body has been formed here to help the call centre executives fight physical and mental disorders by talking to experts and sharing their woes with peers.

From tackling abusive and racist clients overseas to staying connected with the family and friends despite working in the night shifts to service customers in the West, the Young Professionals Collective (YPC) seeks to address all these.

The collective, lunched last weekend, will also sensitise the call centre managements and their overseas clients, the government and other stakeholders about working conditions in this money-spinning sector.

"Our objective is to ensure the framing of standard working conditions in all call centres in India that is at par with international practices," Vinod Shetty, a noted city-based labour lawyer said.

Shetty, along with two of his colleagues, has formed the YPC that is to be registered as a trust in the next couple of months.

Despite being a trade union activist, Shetty claims the collective would function only as a "welfare organisation" and it is not an attempt to unionise the burgeoning call centre industry.

"We are not going to make a statement against anybody. Instead of a confrontationist attitude, we want to launch a collaborative exercise with the industry as well as the government," he said.

"We find that most of the call centre professionals today are not equipped to handle the graveyard shifts. This results in grave physical as well as psychological disorders and a high attrition rate in the industry.

"The industry, on its own, is not able to handle the high attrition rate. With the launch of the Young Professionals Collective, call centre companies can now outsource the welfare of their professionals to us."

Under the collective, a help-line has already been set up where experts would make call centre professionals aware of a host of issues like sexual harassment at workplace, drug abuse, alcoholism, and unsafe sex.

"In our research, we found that most of the call centre professionals silently suffer at their workplaces, as they don't know where to go to discuss their problems," said Shetty.

"Many are subjected to abusive and racial remarks by their overseas customers. While some organisation provide in-house counselling and psychiatrist service, others just prefer to ignore it."

Early this month, there were reports of two American radio jockeys calling up an Indian call centre and abusing an employee. The call aired on Philadelphia's Power 99 FM radio triggered shock and outrage among workers back home.

The $2.6 billion business process outsourcing (BPO) industry, of which call centre business is an important part, has now become one of the top money-spinning ventures for India and is set to grow at a dazzling clip.

More than a quarter of Fortune 500 companies like General Electric, American Express, British Airways, HSBC and Citibank have shifted their back office operations to India.

Shetty said the collective would also organise seminars and interactive sessions.

The body will soon float chapters in Pune, Bangalore and Hyderabad - the cities that have become the hub of the call centre business.

"We can't ignore the working conditions in a sector that is earning so much money for the country and is adding thousands of workers every year," said the labour lawyer.

"If we can't offer them international salaries, let's at least provide them with international working conditions."

Source: IANS
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