Monday, 29 August 2011

Why nobody wants to work in the modern Satanic mill

The Coventry security firm OnGuard24 are "baffled" that they received only two replies for 20 posts, when there are 10,274 people unemployed in the city. The marketing manager "expected the phone to be going non-stop." The Daily Mail's headline implies that the reason it wasn't is that Coventry is "workshy." However, there are other reasons.

It has often been said that call centres are the modern "dark, Satanic mills" - the exploitation of the 19th century factory transposed to 21st century telesales. Anecdotal evidence of conditions is not hard to find, with everything from monitoring the time you're on the toilet to the abuse, grief, and stress to be found on the other end of the phone. More extensively, the group Prol-Position have written an in-depth analysis of the conditions in the industry, whilst only this year PCS members walked out over "sweat shop conditions" in call centres - and that's in the highly-unionised civil service!

In most places, like huge sectors of the service economy, such unionisation would be met quite simply with sackings. It is illegal to sack someone for trade union activity, true, but this fact counts for little without the organisational muscle to back it up. An employment tribunal may get you some compensation, but the employer doesn't have to give you your job back and the threat of an organised workforce is still removed. More than that, it adds further weight to the fear of others about speaking out.

At the same time, when OnGuard24 claims "some of our people here are walking away with £400 a week," everyone who has ever gone through the job hunting process should be able to smell bullshit. Near enough every advert for sales jobs screams of similar benefits, whilst the reality for most people is a low paid, casualised nightmare - and/or much longer hours than advertised in order to meet the targets for commission. I know that, whilst job hunting in the past, I have passed over sales and call centre jobs specifically because I couldn't afford to take them. That's without getting into the nightmare of the actual work itself.

Only one of the two actual applicants was willing to speak to the Mail. The article states that she has been unemployed since 2009, and as a hairdresser was "trying to get a job in a salon for months," but found it "really hard" because "there’s not much out there." Hers was not an application on the grounds of ambition, but of desperation.

Company director David Mawson claims that "if I needed a job and I saw one where I could earn a good wage, I would pick the phone up and come here." He "can't understand why more people haven't." But I can, and most people who've worked at call centres and/or been at the mercy of the job market probably can as well. This is not a case of people being "workshy," but of people not wanting to be treated like shit just in order to barely scrape a living.