Sunday, June 29, 2008

Caller deserving our support

OLD fogies like me are forever lamenting the removal of factories and docks from London, which has left us with empty places in our union councils, among other things; and forever getting pissed-off with such features of modern life as call-centres, whether or not they are to blame for delays in contacting services while we explain to some remote operator where exactly we are; or for cold calls from charities and companies anxious to tell us of their generous special offers.

They usually call while you're having your tea. I could unplug the phone, or find somewhere that sells rubber-clad handsets suitable for bouncing off the wall.

But passing from my Victor Meldrew mode, let's consider the poor sods who work in call-centres. Part of the new-style capitalism - how well it manages to blend modern technology and Dickensian conditions. Permanently stressed, and under pressure, having to put your hand up to ask permission to go to the loo. Trapped between supervisors watching your rate and success of calls, and uncharitable people like me telling you where to go, as we slam the phone down.

Yesterday by way of a change, I had a friendly face to face chat with a London call centre worker, It was just for a few minutes, so I did not get to ask whether his conditions had been as bad as all that. Pat Carmody had come to the National Shop Stewards Network conference where he said call centre workers were organising, despite the difficulties, and staff employed by his company had even won a 15 per cent pay increase. But Pat, a member of the Communication Workers Union, had just been sacked as a result of his union activity.

It seems the trouble started when Pat's boss saw this item in Socialist Worker:

"Standing up for call centre staff" (June 7, 2008)
A well attended meeting of CWU union members at Pell and Bales, a call centre in Old Street, central London, launched a campaign to defend a fellow worker last week. The caller was suspended pending a disciplinary hearing following a complaint made about him during training For asking some pertinent questions. he was accused of "playing to the crowd" and "scowling at the carpet" Many colleagues have signed a petition calling for the charges to be dropped.

The item was signed Pat Carmody, CWU member.

Well, it's a free country isn't it? No, evidently. I wonder if Pat's boss just happened to be reading Socialist Worker, or was it drawn to his attention by someone? It seems putting your name to a news item is even worse than scowling at the carpet, because Pat was told he was in breach of contract, and sacked. He is appealing the decision, and should have his union's support.

Pell and Bales is a small company, and until this case I'd never heard of it. Apparently it claims to be "ethical". Some of its clients are well-known. They include:
Cancer Research UK
Macmillan Cancer Care
World Wildlife Fund
Action Aid
and the Cats Protection League.

Don't know if there's a call centre workers' protection league.

But friends and union colleagues of Pat Carmody are recommending letters to Pell and Bales' CEO, Mr. Karl Holweger, pointing out that the sacking of union rep Pat Carmody is an attack on trade union rights and freedom of speech, and reflects badly on the company. The letters should urge Mr.Holweger to revrse the decision, and reinstate Pat.

You can e-mail letters to
They would like you to please cc to

If you are involved in charity work or as a supporter or worker for any of the organisations that might use Pell and Bales services you could mention that you would raise your concern that the firm they are using is taking an anti-union attitude.

To contact the campaign and keep in touch:

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At 12:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sort it out, they're not anti-union. I was a caller here and it's the constant pestering from so called Union representatives that bugged me, more than the job!

At 3:34 PM, Blogger Charlie Pottins said...

Well, since I've never worked in the place and can only rely on what people say, I must assume your opinion is genuine and reflects your experience.
Only things are - the people you refer to as "so called Union representatives" were presumably elected as such, and if they were not representing the workers you could try to replace them.
As for the case I reported, Pat Carmody was reinstated in his job within days, and as I don't yet imagine this Blog has mighty powers, I would guess this was because management either decided he should not have been sacked, or that he is not so much trouble in the place as to justify the bother of putting him outside. If firms find it not worth the hassle that could be for the good of others still working, who might otherwise have felt they had better keep their head down, not just in one firm but in others.


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