The Current

'Get cancer and die': Campaign urges call centre workers to hang up on abuse

Call centre employees hear death threats, sexually explicit and racist comments on the job regularly. And a new campaign is urging them to Hang Up On Abuse.
The union says policies force call centre workers to listen to sexual, racist and violent taunts but a new campaign urges more employee protection. (ILO in Asia and the Pacific/Flickr cc)

Read story transcript

Call centre employees working at some of Canada's biggest companies experience violent, racist and sexist abuse as part of their job on a regular basis.

Michelle Dey who has worked at a call centre for 25 years tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti she's had her fair share of verbal abuse with "numerous scenarios of sexual or racial harassment, ethnic or homophobic slurs."

"I've had the unfortunate calls such as you know what colour panties am I wearing. I have had a gentleman sitting in a hot tub pleasuring himself while he asks me intelligent questions."

Dey says that employees are expected to control a call. "You can try to get the call back on track but to actually physically hang up on the client is not tolerated," she says. 

"But unfortunately in some of those type of calls you're not really dealing with an actual customer so to ... try to resolve an issue makes it a very difficult situation." 

The after-effects

"It definitely spills over into your home life," she says. 
Call centre workers are abused regularly and have no protection against it, says United Steelworkers Union. (ILO in Asia and the Pacific/Flickr cc)

"After a while it builds up and then it does start to affect how you feel emotionally and physically in your life."

The United Steel Workers Union recognizes abuse that call centre workers face and recently launched a campaign, Hang Up On Abuse that aims to stop the de-humanizing treatment of its call centre members by the public.

"How do you get off of a line and try to go to the next caller when you've just been berated in regards to sexual acts or whatever the circumstances are?" says Ken Neumann, national director of the United Steelworkers Union.

He tells Tremonti the campaign is for employers to reach out and stand by the side of the workers.

"People have to be assured that there'll will be no repercussions if they hang up when someone calls in and is abusive."

"The other thing is that if there is abusive and threatening calls ... these calls also need to be turned over to the authorities."

Listen to the full segment at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Howard Goldenthal and Sujata Berry.