Ryanair style seat grab bad for workers

Forcing workers into a Ryanair style dash for a seat in the office, lowers morale and hits workers’ health, says UNISON, the UK’s largest union. As utility companies and councils strive to make cuts, many call centre operations allocate desks on a first come first served basis, dehumanising workers. Packing up their space each evening and hot desking every morning, is the human equivalent of “battery hens”.

Staff in call centres come under greater pressure because they are constantly monitored when they leave their desks – even to take toilet breaks.  UNISON’s call centre charter calls on employers to ensure staff are always allowed to take toilet breaks when needed without docking pay and a rest room provided for use during breaks.

Hot desking was under fire at the union’s Energy Conference held in Liverpool).  The union is warning that money saved from cutting office space may be counterproductive as hot desking can lead to higher sickness rates and lower morale.

Workstations should be adapted for the height and reach of individual workers but in practice this rarely happens. Neglecting this increases the risk of repetitive strain injury as well as back and lower limb problems.  In addition, call centre workers complain about the risk of infections spreading by constantly sharing telephone equipment, keyboards and desk space.

The lack of personal space has a dampening effect on staff morale and productivity, with members complaining of feeling dehumanised by the whole process.

One call centre worker described conditions in her place of work saying:

“Imagine what it’s like having to pack all your belongings – papers, pens, even your coffee mug – into a crate every night and then dragging it around until I find an empty desk in the morning – it makes me feel like a battery hen.

“In the winter I always avoid desks where I know the previous occupant had a cold, but even so I have noticed more people taking time off as any flu or sore throats go round the office like wildfire.”

Dave Prentis, General Secretary of UNISON said:

“A Ryanair style dash for seats every morning is the worst possible way to start the day. UNISON is calling on employers to think twice about introducing hot desking, especially in areas like call centres.  The target driven culture, coupled with the constant demands of customers, can be dehumanizing enough, without the loss of your personal space.

“We all need to bring a bit of individuality and our own personality to any job and packing up your working day into a locker or crate can be very depressing and morale sapping.”

UNISON has produced a call centre charter to improve the working environment for workers and is urging companies and councils to sign up.

The Charter:

  • Consult UNISON representatives on the design of working practices and the online scripts used by employees.
  • Ensure employees are able to take sufficient breaks away from the workstation and are not monitored to an unreasonable extent.
  • If various shifts are worked on site, management will consult and seek to agree with UNISON, when changes are sought to the existing working patterns of employees.
  • Ensure that employees get proper training in call handling and especially on how to deal with abusive or offensive calls.
  • Any sickness/absence policy or procedure in place, including targets, being agreed with UNISON. Disability and pregnancy related absences should not be included.
  • Special measures being put in place, to deal with stress related sickness absences.
  • Provide suitable and adequate refreshment facilities, including easy and convenient access to drinking water and provision of healthy food options.
  • Workplaces will be kept clean and tidy and accumulations of waste paper and other refuse removed at least daily.
  • Workplace temperatures will be kept at reasonable levels throughout the year and lighting will be adequate for comfortable working and screens glare free.
  • Ensure photocopiers and other noisy/polluting pieces of office equipment are located in separate vented rooms.
  • Deliver workstations that are comfortable, ergonomically tested by experts, adapted to suit individual requirements with screens and comply with the HSE regulations.
  • Make sure employees are eligible to get financial assistance towards the cost of eye tests and where needed, spectacles.
  • Always provide a supply of cleansing gels and wipes to ensure headset hygiene.
  • Workplace risk assessments will be carried out, either by management (a statutory duty) or jointly with UNISON reps and support and recognition is given to allow UNISON health and safety reps to cover the workplace.
  • Establish and/or maintain a health and safety joint committee where individual  workplaces are represented by UNISON health and safety reps.
  • It will be made clear who from management is responsible for the working conditions and practices at the workplace and that person(s) will inform and consult UNISON as necessary.
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