Staff at private call centers contracted out to work on Covid’s testing and traceability services were asked to limit the time spent answering the phone to 10 minutes in a six-hour shift and said they might not be paid for breaks, the Guardian has learned.
Workers, who answer calls from their homes for the government’s 119 Covid number, should select ‘comfort break’ on their computers before using the toilet and are urged to minimize time spent on such absences, to seek food or drink, or to pray.
One staff member said the policy had left them degraded and they felt “worthless to the government and the NHS”.
The policy affects staff at Hays Travel’s customer service center, which was moved last year to answer Covid calls under the leadership of Teleperformance, a French multinational call center, which has a government contract for the service. .
The Department of Health and Welfare declined to say whether Hays staff are treated any differently from other people who also answer 119 calls. The ministry said all staff were given “appropriate” breaks, but declined to comment on what that meant.
Hays staff said they believed he was being treated differently. The Guardian saw an email sent to Hays staff last week stating that Teleperformance had been “asked to update our policy on breaks to ensure that we are fully complying with our contractual requirements.”
He said that for workers working less than six hours, any time away from the screen, including bathroom breaks, food and drink or prayers, should be limited to 10 minutes “where possible” and would not be paid. Those who worked longer shifts would be entitled to an hour’s break in total and would be paid half of it.
Three days later, updated guidance set the 10-minute limit again, stating that staff should select a “comfort break” option on their computer screen before walking away from their screen. However, this omitted the message that breaks would not be paid, an apparent change in policy, although this is unclear.
A Hays staff member said staff were ‘treated like absolute trash’, saying many had received limited training to respond to Covid calls and were told to rely on a reference document of 400 pages.
The other 119 staff members were able to leave their desks whenever they wanted, the employee said, but those on the Teleperformance contract simply received live calls and therefore had to select a pause mode to stop even for a moment.
Teleperformance, which has around 10,000 employees in the UK in total and handles calls from dozens of UK businesses and government organizations, has already been the subject of complaints about the treatment of some home workers.
Earlier this year, thousands of UK Teleperformance employees were told that specialized webcams would be installed on their computers to monitor work-from-home “infractions”. This never happened, with the company claiming the post was in error.
Separately, unions say Teleperformance staff in other countries, some of whom answer calls in the UK, have faced intrusive surveillance at home, including of their families, and have been asked to pass on reports. biometric and medical data.
Andy McDonald, the shadow minister for labor rights, said: “It is inexcusable that the staff who have done such important work throughout the pandemic are treated so badly by their employers.
“Outsourcing is often done to the detriment of workers who are hired under worse conditions than those who are directly employed despite the same work. “
Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the TSSA union, which represents many staff in the travel industry, said: Profit from a public service contract.
“The bosses of Hays must renounce these ways of treating the staff of the owners of Victorian mills. Every worker deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, without having their bathroom breaks constantly monitored. Hays could be breaking equality laws here, so we’ll take a look at that and encourage other staff to tell us about their experience so that we can take action.
Repeated phone calls, texts and emails to staff at Image 7, the French public relations company that handles Teleperformance’s press operations for Europe, have gone unanswered.
Hays Travel, which bought the UK company from Thomas Cook in 2019 but cut hundreds of jobs amid the impact of Covid, also declined to comment.