I also
work in the WorkChoices Hotline call centre in Dixon, Canberra.
Generally I can confirm what has been written so far about the call
centre and its methods. But it is worse than that…

As well as
stock answers, we are given stock questions designed to pre-position
the caller for the misleading response. The “answers” are then read out
in dot-point form, all the better to manoeuvre the listener one step at a
time, so that they don’t notice they’ve been bamboozled. You can see why
the Government loves the call centre – Joe Sixpack calls a child as
young as 16 to find out about his rights, and there’s no chance a Tony
Walker or Annabel Crabb will be able to ask difficult questions,
identify the lies and expose the spin.

I had a caller on
Thursday asking about the 38-hour week. The answers on this question
are entirely soothing, and give little inkling that the maximum hours
will be 38 ANNUALISED hours and therefore there will be no overtime.
She hung up entirely reassured when the outcome will in fact be a
dramatic change to what she expects.

On the other hand, the cafe
owner from Queensland seemed to be far happier. His frank questions
focussed on how he could sod*mise his staff, and how soon. “I have
someone turning 17 – can I sack him rather than pay him more after his
birthday? Do these agreements need to be written down or is a handshake
enough? The AIRC came in here last year to make sure the award was up
and my hours written down – will they be able to do that? I’ve got two
14-year olds who do dishes on Sunday – can I stop paying them extra for
Sunday?” And so on.

final category of caller is the “already
seen it in action” type – people who have gone from awards to AWAs. One
lady was almost in tears becasue now many Australians will know what
she experiences the one day a year when “I have to go to the boss and
justify my existence.” The lady says she does a good job and works
hard, but the boss just uses the threat of the business not being
viable. The lady knows she does not have good negotiating skills and
“stays up all night” with worry the night before this “negotiation.”

are the sorts of questions, and stories, to which I must lamely
respond: “This centre is to provide information about the planned
changes – for information on current arrangements please call
WageLine…” We are watched, not by our supervisors from call centre
group Excelior (sub-contractors to Telstra), but by Department of Employment and Workplace Relations personnel. The
grey-haired DEWR men love to chat to the attractive young ladies, which
at least keeps them off my back.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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