French call centre firm accused of virus barrier breaches

By: AFP      Published: 08:32 PM, 17 Apr, 2020
French call centre firm accused of virus barrier breaches

Labour unions said Friday they had lodged a complaint against French call centre firm Teleperformance for allegedly exposing staff in several countries to "dangerous" working conditions amid the coronavirus outbreak.

In some cases, workers had no choice but to sleep on the floor with other colleagues in call centres due to restrictions on movement linked to virus lockdowns, the UNI Global Union and French unions CFDT, CGT and FO said in a statement.

In others, workers had to share headsets despite the risk of virus contagion. Among its contracts, Teleperformance operates the emergency number in France for people seeking information on COVID-19.

A complaint was lodged with the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) for alleged violations of its guidelines for multinational enterprises, the unions said. "In ten countries including France, the Philippines, Colombia, Britain, Albania, Portugal and Greece, the complaint alleges dangerous conditions in client service centres for clients such as Apple, Google and Amazon," they added.

The UNI Global Union is a federation of unions in 150 countries. The complaint was the first brought for alleged non-respect of the OECD guidelines since the coronavirus outbreak forced governments to impose strict lockdown conditions, shuttering non-essential companies and forcing millions to work from home, said the statement.

The OECD, an economic cooperation forum comprising 36 nations, can entertain complaints concerning the alleged violation of workers' rights in the course of foreign business operations. Teleperformance has 331,000 employees in 80 countries, and describes itself as "the global leader in customer experience management."

On its website, the company states it was "working tirelessly to protect the health and well-being of our employees, while ensuring business continuity for our clients." But according to the CGT, the firm "delayed enabling remote work (for staff) at its call centres which remained open, endangering the health of workers."

And once remote work became possible, the company expected staff to use their  personal cellphones for work, it added. There have been numerous reports of staff being forced to work in close proximity at Teleperformance call centres in France, Greece and Portugal, where health authorities closed a centre that allegedly stayed open after staff were diagnosed with the virus.

A centre in Blagnac, southwestern France, had to be closed for disinfection after a labour inspection, said the CGT. And in the Philippines, workers had no choice but to sleep at the office, according to the UNI Global Union.

On April 7, the company said it had ordered more than six million masks, had enabled half of its workforce to telecommute, and was targeting two-thirds by mid-April. The company did not respond to a request for comment on Friday.

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