‘The petri dish and Russian roulette’: working in UK contact centres during the COVID-19 pandemic

Author: Phil Taylor1
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  • 1 University of Strathclyde, , UK
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This article analyses the dynamic interaction of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the disease COVID-19, and its epidemiological characteristics, with an expansive conception of the contact centre labour process, integrating the contact centres’ socially-constructed built environment with distinctive qualities of the social organisation of work. Based on an online survey conducted in April–May 2020 of 2,226 call handlers in, largely, the telecoms and financial services sectors, it provides compelling evidence of the risks facing workers from inter alia dense building occupancy, compromised social distancing, inadequate cleansing and sanitisation, heating ventilation and air conditioning systems and from the outcomes of management control systems. A crucial element in explaining widespread virus transmissibility lies in understanding how the broader political economy that produced the dominant mass production contact centre paradigm is intertwined with its ‘inner workings’, leading to a ‘business-as-usual’ default that prioritised value-generating service continuity at the expense of any precautionary principle. The article contributes additionally by re-affirming the utility of labour process theory.

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  • 1 University of Strathclyde, , UK

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