BT staff to strike over `dictatorial' management

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The Independent Online
STAFF AT BT'S call centres are threatening to take industrial action over their management's "Big Brother attitude".

More than 4,000 staff at 37 BT sites who deal with domestic telephone customers are understood to have voted in favour of a series of day-long stoppages because the company allegedly monitors their every move, including time spent in the lavatory. The result of the ballot of Communication Workers Union staff will be announced later this week and, if they vote to strike, the action will be taken on 22 November.

Employees at BT's 37 call centres have, according to their representatives, become in creasingly angry over the "dictatorial" approach of the company. Each member of staff is allowed four minutes 40 seconds to deal with a call and people are disciplined if they go over the limit. "Sometimes we have to deal with a call from an elderly person who may not have talked to somebody for a week, so we feel we ought to chat. But management says we've got to learn to be hard."

The staff, who deal with queries over bills and repairs, are also angry over the fact that time away from work stations is strictly monitored. "Sometimes pregnant women have been told that they go to the toilet too often," said the representative. "More and more people are working at call centres, so this is a crucial area of workers' rights. BT is generally regarded as a good employer; it is, after all, a blue-chip company. If people are not treated reasonably there, what chance do the people have elsewhere?"

A spokesman for BT said the company was hoping that staff who answer 150 and 151 calls, the bills and maintenance services, would not for vote for action. He said the company had employed 1,800 new staff to help with the workload and had converted employment agency staff to permanent employees and switched part-timers to full-time contracts.

Meanwhile, the Manufacturing Science Finance union is giving advice on how to negotiate agreements to regulate "snooping" on staff.

The MSF general secretary, Roger Lyons, said: "All employees should be aware that Big Brother is already watching them. Modern surveillance and monitoring techniques are increasingly encroaching on the lives of working people. Whether they are carried out openly or in secret, the result is intimidation and stress."