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Inside call centres: 'No more jobs for life' - JAMPRO president comfortable with attrition rates among call centre employees

Published:Sunday | April 17, 2016 | 12:00 AMAndre Poyser and Jovan Johnson
Diane Edwards, president of JAMPRO.
Davon Crump

Concerns about a high turnover rate and low wages in business processing outsourcing (BPO) call centres are being dispelled by officials of the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Agriculture.

JAMPRO President Diane Edwards has questioned claims of a high turnover rate in the industry.

"High is a relative term ... so I would challenge you on a perception that turnover is high. High relative to what?" she asked in an interview with The Gleaner.

Comparing data from India and The Philippines, Edwards noted that Jamaica's average turnover rate of five per cent is acceptable.

According to the JAMPRO president, the turnover rates in India are somewhere of the order of 33-50 per cent.

In the Philippines, she said the attrition rate has come down from 33 per cent in 2011 to around 20 per cent in 2015.

"We have to start looking at how jobs are created nowadays, the fluidity in the international environment and the speed with which jobs are created. Jobs change, companies have to be flexible, they have to find new opportunities, so the days of a job for life are no more. No one is saying that everyone who goes into BPO will like it or like the environment, but they will learn skills that are transferable to another industry and they will move to another industry, and we think that is natural and normal and we don't see any problem with that," she said.




On the issue of low wages in the industry, it was Anthony Hylton, opposition spokesperson on industry, investment and commerce, who argued that call-centre agents are paid competitively in comparison to workers in the tourism sector.

The average earnings for an entry-level agent in a call centre are between $200 and $450 an hour.

A former call-centre employee who wrote to The Gleaner noted that "there are some companies, especially in the Montego Bay Free Zone, who are paying their agents less than US$2 per hour (in other countries, agents are working US$4 an hour) and the incentive structure is set up in such a way that less than half of the agents in the company is able to really meet it".

The former call-centre employee added: "And, if they do meet it, there are certain procedures in place that will cause them to lose some of that money they have worked so hard to get."

He said he started working with a base pay of $200 and was told that, over a period of time, this would increase.

"Until the time I left, no increase was done, and to make matters worse, when I went over my break and lunch by just a minute, $750 was deducted. I could not stay with such a company that operated in such a way, and I eventually landed a job in the hospitality industry and I'm now happily employed," he said.

"Plus, management makes it so comfortable. I feel as if I'm among family. At no time did I feel comfortable while working at a call centre."

Davon Crump, who operates Global Outsourcing Solutions, believes that the wages are fair.

"I am one to quickly dispel the myth that call-centre agents are poorly paid. I believe it is fair and rates higher than many other sectors - some areas of tourism, retail, food services, to name a few," he told The Gleaner.