Canada Employment and Immigration Union -
February 4, 2011

MP’s learn about service issues from CEIU members

MP’s will be hearing directly from members at Service Canada about the decline in service to the public — and its causes. A deterioration in working conditions at call centres has led to fewer staff being available to assist clients, and pending cuts to term staff will only make things worse. The lobbying action will give MP’s an inside look at EI and CPP/OAS call centre operations, and provide proposals for improvements.

In Bathurst, New Brunswick call centre workers took their message to local Member of Parliament Yvon Godin. In a meeting attended by more than 100 members of local 60254, the MP heard from Local President Nathalie Paulin and others about the pressures on call centre staff that lead to poorer service for clients. Management expects call centre workers to be on the phones almost every minute of the working day, with only two seconds between calls. In call centre jargon, management expects workers to meet an “occupancy rate” in the area of 95%, a rate that leads to predictable results for both staff and the public. Management claims that their occupancy rate is set at 80%, the industry average, but the facts on the ground are quite different.

For staff, the excessive occupancy rate drives up stress levels and leads to burnout, elevated rates of sick leave and higher turnover as staff flee the call centres in search of a more balanced workplace.

A call centre agent who was off work for a number of months due to stress explained that he is now able to handle the job, “…but not because the expectations are more realistic. I’m now on a ‘calming’ medication that allows me to survive in this pressure cooker of a work environment.  Funny – to handle this job, we need to medicate ourselves and function like an automaton. Call centres are the most current example of the ancient sweat-shop.”

Turnover and sickness mean fewer staff are available to answer calls, and EI and CPP/OAS clients suffer accordingly. The turnover problem leads to increased numbers of inexperienced new hires answering inquiries. They do their best, but their lack of experience in combination with the high-pressure workplace leads to less effective interaction with callers. Absence stemming from stress and burnout has an even more direct impact on clients: there are simply fewer workers available to handle the calls. The current working conditions are failing clients and staff alike.

In Bathurst, MP Yvon Godin agreed to members’ request to meet with Minister Diane Finlay in Ottawa. Like their colleagues across the country, members in Bathurst want the department to lower the occupancy rate to the industry-standard of 80%. This would give staff the time to finish documentation on calls, keep up with policy changes, review work email and catch their breath between calls which are currently just two seconds apart.

“If other call centres in Canada can operate successfully at the 80% rate, why can’t Service Canada?” said CEIU National President Jeannette Meunier-McKay. “Our members are making reasonable proposals that would improve both service to our clients and working conditions in the call centres. We need to make progress on these issues, and we will.”

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