BT call centre 'blocked call to tell worker her son might be going blind'

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The Independent Online

A call-centre worker for BT has resigned after the company refused to let her husband give her an urgent message that their son might be going blind.

The case is the latest in a series of incidents that has angered staff at call centres, which make up one of Britain's fastest-growing industries, and which impose fierce pressure on workers.

Ann-Marie Bebb, 28, of Treorchy, south Wales, left on Thursday, saying that the incident, at a call centre in Cardiff, was "the last straw".

Her husband David, 33, had tried to ring her to tell her that their son Sam, 10, had been taken to hospital because a lump had been found behind his eye. However, Mr Bebb was told he would have to wait until her next break to speak to her. He was forced to telephone a customer helpline before an operator agreed to put him through which, by then, was 30 minutes later.

BT, which is launching an investigation into Mr Bebb's claims, has had a number of conflicts with staff at its call centres, although the Trades Union Congress has cited the company as one of the better employers in the sector.

In 1999, BT call-centre workers went on strike to protest against the treatment of staff. Dozens of BT workers are also preparing compensation claims for "acoustic shock", caused by piercing sounds to which they say they were subjected through their headsets.

Mr Bebb said that when he finally spoke to his wife, who answers technical inquiries about the internet, she had not been given a message. He said: "All the manager had to do was give her a tap on the shoulder and tell her there was a problem, but they didn't." The couple was relieved to have been told by the hospital later that Sam's condition was not as bad as feared.

A BT spokesman, Eric Barr, said that BT had not been aware of the case until Mrs Bebb left. "If we caused her any distress, we apologise for that," he said.

A spokesman for the recruitment agency Manpower, which provided staff for the call centre, said: "We have not had a complaint and so there is nothing more we can do."

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