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Monday, August 04, 2008

Calling for Change



New Zealand research workers start Calling for Change

In the last four weeks over 400 market and social research call centre employees from around 15 separate companies across Auckland and Hamilton have joined Unite Union and signed up to be part of the recently launched ‘Calling for Change’ campaign for better wages, better conditions and healthier, happier workplaces.

The campaign is a joint initiative between the Australian National Union of Workers and Unite.

“Over the last few years there has been a boom in the number of market and social research firms in New Zealand, exacerbated by a number of Australian and transnational firms who have outsourced operations to Auckland in order to take advantage of the low minimum wage and deregulated work environment,” explains Unite National Director Mike Treen.

“Australian market research workers, 3000 of whom are union members, receive around twice the pay rates their fellow New Zealand workers are paid.

“The Calling for Change campaign seeks to take an industry-wide approach to lift workers’ wages above poverty levels, clean up conditions and build working peoples’ ability to organise to protect their interests at work.

“This is the first time in New Zealand that call centre workers have benefited from trans-Tasman solidarity and a campaign that seeks to unify all workers to gain industry standards on pay and conditions,” he says.

Some of the largest and most wealthy media and information corporations and corporate conglomerates have moved operations into Auckland and have set up call centres that resemble electronic sweatshops.

Conditions include stuffy, hot, noisy and cramped work environments, timed toilet breaks, unsterilised workstations, no sick or holiday pay, no written contracts, insecure hours and a work environment where an atmosphere of fear is normal.

Workers in Auckland have regularly reported leaving work with ringing ears, headaches and finding it hard to sleep as a result of stress. In many call centres employer monitoring borders on bullying and employees face great stress and strain from this work.

Treen says union calls for better pay and conditions have already been met with threats from global companies that make hundreds of millions of dollars of profit annually to offshore work in unionised call centres.

“The willingness and ability of global companies to move operations across the world in a shameless search for the lowest wages will result in an endless race to the bottom unless checked by transnational worker organising and solidarity.
“These global corporations, while siphoning millions dollars of profit offshore, undercut many smaller New Zealand owned and operated companies that have better rates of pay and take an interest in the conditions of their workers,” Treen concludes.

To this end, Unite Union and the National Union of Workers are committed to a global alliance of market and social research workers to protect workers and contribute to healthy, fair economies that need these very people to produce the knowledge that knowledge-based economies require.

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