Literature ReviewDespite Call Centres being rated among the fastest growing business enterprises in the service sector, there is a wide agreement among scholars that the strict working hour, little-or-no flexibility and the demand for high performance present ideal grounds in which employees suffer intense pressure at work, lack career prospects and their employers emphasise too much control over them (Rose, 2003, p. 40). The labour relations facing workers in the call centres is made worse by the fact that most of them do not belong to any labour union and therefore their contracts to their employers are negotiated individually (Taylor and Bain, 1999).
Since most of call centre employees are young, it is even more likely that they do not consider labour union membership as a necessary thing to get involved in. According to Rose (2002, p. 41), most employees avoid organisational commitment necessary for labour union membership, a position that is further cemented in the employee culture by the employers’ substitution policies that make employees to perceive benefits provided under individual contracts as better that what labour union membership would provide to them.
According to Rose (2002, p. 41), this encourages union avoidance by most call centre agents. Notably, employers are within their legal mandate to encourage, pressure or persuade employees against union membership, as long as such actions do not qualify as undue influence (Deery and Mitchell, 1999, 219). Phillips (2002) observes that call centres in Australia offer the labour unions a prime ground to recruit new union members. Starting right from the young managers, Phillips argues that labour unions can easily convince them to take up membership because such young managers are less knowledgeable on “distinguishing bluff from legal authority”.
While this opinion suggests that the young managers may be ignorant on the position taken by call centres regarding labour unions, Phillip (2002) states that allowing labour unions to penetrate call centres would be tantamount to giving up the management of such high demanding-centres to the whims of the “selected unions. ..who would switch off the centres at a moment’s notice”. To this end, the author argues that such actions would diminish the competitiveness of Australian call centres to the international call centres.
The argument portended by this author is that while wages offered to call centres is not in contention, increased union membership among call centre employees would jeopardise performance, which would in turn lead to collapse of the call centre industry. These views by Phillips are however refuted by Bain and Taylor (2001, p. 13), who by analysing call centres and labour unions in the United Kingdom concluded that the successful unionisation of call centre employees in the UK was driven by the widespread dissatisfaction that most call centre agents had about their pay.
This then suggests that the greatest benefit that union membership may give to individual employees is pay-related. Otherwise, the nature of work in call centres and the performance expectations are well known to the Labour Unions, the employers as well as the employees and are even perceived as necessary to the continued survival of the sector.