Workers Health & Safety Centre

Ending call centre worker abuse: goal of new USW campaign

Call centre workers working in small cubicles
Call centre workers across Canada are exposed every day to threats of violence along with racist, sexist and other dehumanizing verbal abuse.
“While some companies say they have zero tolerance of abuse and policies in place to protect workers, we are not convinced that policies are empowering and protecting workers on the front line,” says Lee Riggs, President of the Telecommunications Workers Union, United Steelworkers (USW) National Local 1944 which represents workers in this sector.

The USW recently launched a national campaign to raise awareness of this abuse, give voice to these at-risk workers and to call on Canadian call centre employers to adopt a policy empowering workers to end or pass on abusive calls ─ without fear of losing their jobs.

A web site dedicated to this campaign, entitled Hang Up On Abuse, allows call centre workers to share their experiences. Their names are kept anonymous for fear of reprisal from employers, many of which are well aware of the abuse.

One such post reads, “It amazes me that an employer can insist an employee not only put up with abuse but we are instructed to bend over backwards to reward this bad behavior by being empathetic, accepting responsibility and issuing discounts/credits that we would not have applied if they were polite.”

An online video supporting this USW-led campaign further highlights the seriousness of the abuse including death threats, wishes of terminal illness and blatant racist remarks.

“Some of this abuse is extremely serious,” says Riggs. “It’s dehumanizing and causes stress to workers long after they have finished their shifts. This can lead to problems at home and to mental and physical pain.”
“We know that abuse and harassment of call centre workers is a problem and it has to stop,” says USW National Director Ken Neumann. “While we can’t persuade everyone to treat call centre workers respectfully, we can persuade companies to adopt policies that empower workers to end abusive calls.”

To help secure safer and healthier work environments for call centre workers, campaign organizers are asking for support by way of an online petition and to spread the word through various social media.

Both federal and provincial laws place significant obligations on employers to ensure safe work environments. Here in Ontario, the Occupational Health and Safety Act places specific duties on employers to address workplace violence and harassment, including that from customers. This includes the development and implementation of workplace harassment and violence policies and program(s). To this end the employer must also provide all workers with information and instruction on the content of these policies and related measures.

The Workers Health & Safety Centre (WHSC) offers a three-hour Workplace Violence and Harassment program designed to help workplace parties better understand the issues and to fully comply with the legal obligations. Be sure to check out WHSC’s compliance checklists for employers and workers and related fact sheets.
Want to know more about the Hang Up On Abuse campaign?  

Want to know more about workplace violence and harassment from the WHSC?
MOL issues code of practice on workplace harassment
Workers right to harassment-free workplace extends to employer run social media
Workplace violence and harassment resources

To learn more: 
Call     1-888-869-7950 and ask to speak to a WHSC training services representative