The telemarketers on strike demand more decent working conditions: "The templates are not merchandise!"
Teleoperators gather in front of the Telefónica headquarters on Madrid's Gran Vía during the sector's strike day.
Teleoperators gather in front of the Telefónica headquarters on Madrid’s Gran Vía during the sector’s strike day.KIKE FOR

“We serve their clients with dismal salaries. Templates are not merchandise! Between shouts and whistles, hundreds of telemarketers have concentrated this Monday in several cities in Spain and have supported a day of strike to protest against the precariousness to which the sector is doomed. The collective agreement that governs the activity of these workers expired in December 2019. Since then, while the same conditions of the expired agreement continue to apply, the unions are at a negotiating table with the Cex employers to agree on its renewal. However, the positions of the two parties remain very distant.

Both UGT and CC OO accuse the employers of making proposals that hardly imply an improvement in working conditions for the more than 120,000 telephone operators operating in Spain. For her part, Cex, contacted by this newspaper, has refused to make any statements so as not to interfere in the negotiation. These mobilizations coincide with a regulatory change that will make the work of telemarketers even more demanding: the preliminary draft of the Customer Service Law, which includes the obligation to serve the customer in a maximum time of three minutes, was approved on the 31st of May and is currently in the process of processing in the Cortes.

The first stumbling block for the renewal of the collective agreement concerns abuses in hiring and salary, which has been frozen for more than two years at an average of 800 euros gross per month, according to CC OO sources. This sector hardly has a full-time contract: the working day is usually 30 hours per week, so its workers have a very low purchasing power. This is the case of Montse Sánchez (46 years old), who has already requested an extension of hours three times, although without success. “From my company they do not give me explanations. But often new colleagues subcontracted by third-party companies who work 40 hours a week come in. Of course, with much worse conditions, ”she points out at the Madrid concentration, where more than 200 telemarketers have gathered in front of the Telefónica headquarters on Gran Vía.

He considers his indefinite contract to be a luxury, although making ends meet is still a nightmare. His base salary is 890 euros and more than half is eaten by rent and household expenses. “I am separated and with a dependent child. Fortunately, my parents help me as much as they can, but I am forced to cut costs on a daily basis. I can’t eat fish every week,” she admits. Beatriz Arcos (33 years old), in this sector for eight years, is going through the same difficulties. “I have a house and five children to support. My salary is not enough for me”, she says, while she proudly waves the CC OO flag.

Laura Domínguez Garrido, sectoral coordinator of ccontact center of CC OO Services, considers that in the face of the current escalation of prices it is not bearable to have the salary frozen for two and a half years. The employer’s latest proposal regarding the salary increase provides for an increase of 0.8% for 2021 (when the CPI rose by 6.5%), 2.5% for 2022 and for 2023 an increase corresponding to the CPI but with a maximum limit of 2.5%. “It is an unacceptable offer for a sector that in recent decades has not suffered any crisis. We serve citizens in many essential services. We are the first contact they have with companies through the phone”, he points out.

Another key point that prevents the closing of an agreement consists of the employers’ refusal to introduce subrogation when one company loses a campaign and another wins it. As explained by CC OO, in the expired collective agreement, article 18 provided for an exchange of workers between companies when their contract was for work and service, that is, the company that won a campaign had the obligation to incorporate the staff of the company that had lost it. However, with the disappearance of this type of contract after the labor reform, at the end of a service, companies throw workers out on the street with an ERE. “It is necessary to establish a subrogation clause to give continuity to employment. We cannot continue making the sector more precarious”, Garrido stresses.

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Telecommuting expenses

The telemarketers, protected by the trade unions, also criticize the breach of the Telework Law by the companies in the sector. UGT and CC OO ensure that the signatures of contact center They have not yet paid the expenses of the tasks carried out remotely, when 90% of the workforce has been teleworking since the beginning of the pandemic. Diego Cuenca, a telemarketer in a medium-sized company for four years, returned to the office last February, although he has not forgotten the money he has had to spend to carry out his activity from home. “Internet connection, heating in the winter months and electricity add up to more than 100 euros per month and the company still hasn’t given me a dime. The only thing they gave me was a laptop, which arrived late, less than a year ago, when I had been working on my personal computer for some time”, he reproaches.

According to union sources, the second strike in the sector —the first was called on May 13— has had a follow-up of 85%, which shows the perseverance of telemarketers in the fight to improve their current working conditions. In fact, in the face of the bosses’ blockade, some companies have begun to apply wage increases to their workers, aware of the difficulties they face. The next meeting with Cex is scheduled for June 28, and although the unions do not lose hope of reaching an agreement, they have warned that they will continue with the calls until the negotiations are unblocked.

Serve customers in less than three minutes

With regard to the Customer Service Law, which requires telemarketers from medium and large companies (with at least 250 workers) to serve customers in a maximum time of three minutes, the unions warn of two possible consequences. “More staff may be hired to cover call queues or pressure may increase on employees to reduce handling time,” says Garrido. UGT and CC OO consider that this legislative proposal, aimed at protecting the consumer, must be accompanied by some measure that guarantees the quality of the service, even with the new requirements.

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