The call centre environment in South Africa is quite notorious for having what many who have experience describe as “toxic.” CCI is South Africa’s largest call centre, and it should not be surprising that the call centre has come under some scrutiny. We took some time to investigate this developing story, and what we established was quite interesting, to say the least.
CALL CENTERS IN SOUTH AFRICA
The industry is notoriously exploitative, with call centre agents often working the maximum and legally permissible 9 hours a day under the Basic Conditions of Employment Act. This is not necessarily an anomaly; however, the environment workers often have to work under leaves a lot to be desired. The pressures required of telesales agents, for instance, are often very mentally taxing.
THE ISSUES AT CCI
The South African call centre has, for years, been accused of being exploitative and racist towards young black employees. According to Sibusiso Khumalo, regional coordinator of the ANCYL in eThekwini, they held a series of unsuccessful attempts to engage with the management of the call centre and raise the issues and grievances of the workers and young people whom they represent. “Workers at CCI work long hours using the time zones of countries like Australia and America as CCI provides outsourcing services for companies in these countries,” Khumalo said. “The South African agents employed at CCI do not earn anywhere remotely close to what agents in the US, Australia, or Britain earn while doing the exact same job with the same level of competency,” continued Khumalo.
The average salary of a call centre agent in Australia earns around R400 000 per annum; that figure in South Africa is just north of R65 000 per annum. In a meeting held with the ANCYL, however, CCI officials were adamant that they were still one of the best-paying call centres in the country and ought to be commended for providing so many employment opportunities.
A CCI employee who preferred to remain anonymous, for fear of persecution, further lamented: “We work very odd hours where sometimes our shifts begin at 02:00 in the morning, and it is impossible to get public transport, and CCI makes no arrangements for employees, and this makes the transport costs really high while the salaries we earn are very low.”
There are also numerous accusations of Indian racism within the company on social media platforms by black employees; these are all issues the ANCYL – spearheaded by Sibusiso Khumalo – wish to champion.
ANCYL TAKES MASS ACTION AGAINST CCI
In a city on a corner stands a house that’s mighty grand
Where in glory and in splendour dwell the magnates of the Rand
What a system! What a crime!
We can’t mend it, we must end it
End it now and for all times . . .
Up above the mining compound where he joins the picket line
He’s a labour agitator and his life’s not worth a dime . . .
This is a communist song composed and sung decades ago by British miners in protest against exploitative mining working conditions. Few songs could be more potent in expressing the plight faced by CCI employees.
The company boasts one of the most state-of-the-art buildings and infrastructure in the affluent Umhlanga (In glory and splendour dwell the magnates of the Rand). The ANCYL took to the offices of CCI in Umhlanga to picket and protest and submit worker demands on Friday the 25th of February. This was despite efforts by CCI to stop the mass action through the courts, citing that the ANCYL is not a labour union and thus does not represent. However, this application was dismissed in court, and the planned protest proceeded.
The demands presented by the ANCYL are as follows:
- R10 000 basic salary for employees
- More transparent HR processes to avoid unfair dismissals
- Ending corporate racism
- Union representation for CCI employees
- Provision of transport for employees working odd hours.
As is the culture now in South Africa, peaceful protesters were met with heavily-armed security forces. The environment was extremely hostile; however, there were no reports of anyone being harmed.
It is unlikely that CCI will respond positively to these demands without more pressure. However, years of lamentations by workers have finally sparked mass action, and perhaps there is cause for optimism for the average CCI labourer. There is a likelihood that those who join protest action will lose jobs and be replaced, as there is a surplus of labour force in South Africa. That is the story many South Africans in the private sector know all too well. Up above the mining compound where he joins the picket line / He’s a labour agitator and his life’s not worth a dime.