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02 July 2001

Unions need to step up recruitment in call centres
Unions have a long way to go before they can say they have a grip on call centres, according to a survey by Labour Research magazine. But some unions have got call-centre workers clearly in their sights and are conducting imaginative campaigns to recruit them.

The survey estimates that, so far, unions have recruited well under a quarter of the staff in the so-called "21st century sweatshops" and have tackled only a small proportion of the call centres in existence.

It found that 16 of the 27 unions responding to the survey currently had a total of about 48,000 members in call centres. If this is the pattern across the TUC it suggests there are about 88,000 call-centre staff who are union members. This represents little more than a fifth of the total staff which is estimated at 400,000.

Most unions said they had existing members in only a handful of call centres, of which there are estimated to be around 5,000 in total.

But they cover a wide range of service industries, including mobile phone operations, satellite broadcasting companies, contracted services, appliance servicing, retail, advertising, transport, the emergency services, the health service and central and local government, as well as the more well known areas of financial services and utilities.

A number of unions do see call centres as fertile hunting grounds, the survey finds. The nine unions who could give specific numbers said between them they were targeting 45 call centres with a total potential new membership of over 45,000.

And those unions who are actively organising call centres are being required to run some particularly imaginative campaigns. The survey found that workers' fear of management is the prime reason for not joining a union, followed by unions not being given access to staff.

The survey reveals that that new legal provisions on representing workers in non-union workplaces are helping unions to build up membership where management bars their access to staff.

Notes to editors

1. The survey covered 27 unions representing around 3.7 million members (56% of TUC membership). Sixteen of the 27 unions had existing membership in call centres. Further details of the survey are published in the enclosed July 2001 issue of Labour Research magazine.

2. Labour Research is published by the Labour Research Department, an independent trade union and labour movement organisation founded 89 years ago. More than 1,800 trade union organisations, including 55 national unions representing 99% of total TUC membership, are affiliated.

3. For further information contact Clare Ruhemann on 0207 902 9824

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