Unite, the union which represents staff working in call and contact centres across the financial services sector, has today (Thursday 4 June) called for urgent action following the publication of a report into Covid-19 within the sector.

The survey of nearly 3,000 staff working in call centres throughout the UK found massive alarm amongst the workforce about the safety conditions within their workplace. The independent research was conducted by professor Phil Taylor of the University of Strathclyde.

The research aimed to gather data from a large sample of contact centre workers of their experiences and perceptions of hazards.

The key findings of the report are:

  • 47.2% ‘strongly agreed’ and 30.7% ‘agreed’ with the statement, ‘I think it is likely that I will catch Covid-19’. At the same time, over 90% either ‘strongly agreed’ (68.6%) or ‘agreed’ (22%) with the statement, ‘I am worried I will give Covid-19 to family or friends’.
  • 37.8% of respondents stated that they were seated less than the required 2 metres, with one in six (16.4%) reporting that they were a mere 1.5 metres distance or less.
  • One in two reported that their seating arrangements meant that there was often only a short distance and a relatively low panel separating facing colleagues across a divide.
  • Difficulties are exacerbated by workers’ movements throughout the floors, where corridors and walkways are often narrow. Almost three-quarters (73%) believed that social distancing when moving around the building was either ‘hazardous’ or ‘very hazardous’.
  • 45% consider management to have been either ‘ineffective’ or ‘very ineffective’ in ‘taking the necessary steps to ensure social distancing’.
  • 65.2% said that they had requested to work from home and 34.8% had not. In answer to the subsidiary question regarding outcome, only 4.8% had had their request approved, while 31.7% had theirs rejected. The majority, 63.5%, were waiting for a decision.

Rob MacGregor, Unite national officer, said: “The scale of the fear amongst call and contact centre staff is stark to see from this report by professor Phil Taylor. Workers in the finance sector are calling out for their employer to do more to keep them safe during this public health emergency.

“Employers from banks and insurance companies must consider this report urgently and re-double their efforts to keep their workforce safe.

“Since the start of the Covid-19 crisis the staff in contact and call centres have worked tirelessly as key workers to serve customers, often despite their own safety fears. The report today makes clear the areas where urgent discussion between employers and trade unions must be stepped up.

“Unite the union representatives will be raising the findings of this research with employers and pressing for action to ensure the highest possible safety of our members as they work hard to serve finance sector customers.”

The research concluded that homeworking at this time has undeniable advantages. The evidence in the report demonstrates unequivocally that “working from home will take call handlers and back office workers out of a working environment that is perceived as very dangerous, freed from toxic combination that is at work. The flaws of social distancing, generally unavoidable even with the best of policy intentions and practices, the inadequacies of cleaning and sanitisation, the palpable risks of hot-desking, the stressful nature of increased and demanding workloads all combined with the baleful, probably dangerous effects, of sub-optimal or malfunctioning HVAC systems in open-plan, densely populated offices makes homeworking a necessity not an optional benefit”.

Professor Phil Taylor said: “Organisations now have an urgent responsibility to re-assess the configuration of their services and swiftly home locate those many who are in a position to do so and want to. Rapid action will save some lives. Inaction will cause further deaths and serious illness.”


For further information contact Saba Edwards on 07768 693 953.