Big tech call centre workers at Teleperformance in Colombia demand bargaining over wages, monitoring, health and safety
- Call centre workers, who provide support for the US market and for Apple, Uber, Amazon, Tinder, and others, face extreme surveillance, wage theft, and attacks on freedom of association
- The union is part of a growing global workers’ movement to reform tech’s value chain
BOGOTA, 09 AUGUST 2021—Contracted call centre workers in Colombia who provide service to some of the world’s largest tech companies have informed their employer of their decision to unionize. As members of Utraclaro and with support of UNI Global Union, these Teleperformance workers are organizing to improve their jobs by beating back extreme surveillance, ending wage theft, and raising salaries. NBC News and The Guardian have recently reported these claims.
Teleperformance, the Paris-based outsourcing giant, grew rapidly in Colombia during the pandemic to become the country’s largest private employer, and its 42,000 call centre employees there are increasingly a critical part of the global value chain for tech companies like Apple, Uber, Google, Tinder, and others. Workers in Colombia provide phone and text support for customers and suppliers of clients throughout Latin America, the United States, and Europe. A subset of workers also provides simultaneous interpretation for healthcare providers and U.S. governmental agencies.
Speaking about the pressures of being constantly monitored while working at home, one worker supporting Amazon at Teleperformance Colombia, who wishes to remain anonymous because of fear of retaliation, said:
“It felt very uncomfortable. I sometimes stand up because my back hurts and I thought ‘If I get up they will tell me that I am not in my position’. It was the same if I wanted to say something to my family because they say you have to look at the computer. Anything that I did away from the PC made me feel scared or uncomfortable. It's forbidden to have other people close to you.”
Workers notified the company that they had joined Utraclaro, Colombia’s call centre union, on Monday 2 August 2021 and submitted their bargaining demands, meaning the employer is required by law to negotiate. The workers submitted several serious problems for bargaining, including:
- Invasive in-home surveillance. Teleperformance shifted roughly 60 per cent of its employees to remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic, and most of these workers have signed, or are being pressured to sign, new contracts allowing the company to video record workers in their homes as well as collect, store, and share worker data—including biometric data—with third parties. Workers also must consent to Teleperformance storing data collected from minors and other family members.
- Wage theft. Workers say Teleperformance does not pay for the time they spend logging in and out to the call centre company’s system, or for times when the system is down. Additionally, workers report that the company does not compensate workers during power and internet outages, a common occurrence in Colombia, even though workers are still forced to be on the job.
- Minimum pay. A significant number—if not the majority—of Teleperformance workers in Colombia earn the minimum wage, equivalent to just US$243/month.
Teleperformance has a record of being virulently anti-union in Colombia and throughout its global operations, which span 80 countries and employ 383,000 people. The company has pushed out Colombian workers who previously attempted to form a union as well as dismissed Colombian employees who organized for stronger safety measures during the pandemic.
Recommendations from the French National Contact Point (NCP) for the OECD guidelines on multinational enterprises stated that the company's behaviour in Colombia was, “contrary to the freedom of association of workers, as recommended by the OECD Guidelines, thus akin to anti-union practices. "
In these recommendations, published on 30 July 2021, the French NCP called on Teleperformance to ensure, as soon as possible, that its “Colombian subsidiaries respect the right of workers to form or join trade unions and representative organizations of their choice.”
“Teleperformance’s profits and executive pay have skyrocketed, and the number of workers has risen rapidly, but workers have not shared in the company’s success,” said Yuli Higuera, President of Utraclaro union. “This is an opportunity for Teleperformance to go from being known as the country’s largest employer to being one of the country’s best. That transformation begins with starting negotiations with employees.”
Utraclaro recently helped workers in Colombia win a union contract at Atento, another multinational call centre company. The union negotiated better pay, conditions, and an end to fixed-term contracts for workers. Precarious work and short-term contracts are issues for workers at Teleperformance as well.
"Teleperformance is a multi-billion-dollar corporation selling services to the richest companies in the world, and during the pandemic, its record profitability has come off the backs of workers,” said Christy Hoffman, General Secretary of UNI Global Union. “Workers in Colombia are organizing in an incredibly challenging environment because they want their fair share, and they want better lives for their families.”
“Call centre employees are an often invisible—but important—workforce that has allowed tech and other industries to keep functioning during COVID-19, and now in Colombia and beyond, they are part of a global movement to make supply and value chains more ethical and more accountable,” she continued.
According to the International Trade Union Confederation, Colombia is one of the worst places in the world to be a worker, with no guarantee of labour rights. More than 1,000 social and trade union leaders have been killed in the country in the past five years. More than 100,000 of Teleperformance’s employees are in countries with systematic violations of workers’ rights.
UNI Global Union represents 20 million skills and service workers in 150 countries—including 3 million in Information, Communications, Technology and Services. It coordinates an international alliance of Teleperformance unions—and seeks a global agreement with the company to set standards for conditions and adherence to human rights throughout its operations.
Utraclaro is the largest union in Colombia to represent workers in the telecommunications, contact centre, and IT industries. In addition to Teleperformance they represent workers at Atento, one of the top 5 largest contact centre companies in the world.