New research on call centre industry

In 2008, the Employment and Training Corporation commissioned a study focusing on Malta’s growing call centre industry. The study aimed to gain a better insight into the current state of the industry in terms of employment and skills requirements. It also includes a special focus on the industry in the Maltese island of Gozo. The study encompasses a range of findings – including on type of employment contracts, remuneration levels and extent of staff turnover.

Study methodology

A study (1.16Mb PDF) on Malta’s call centre industry was commissioned by the Employment and Training Corporation (ETC) in 2008. The study, which was published in September 2008, is based on information gathered from two main sources: from eight employers involved in the call centre industry and from 175 jobseekers who want to work in the industry. The research pertaining to employers was of a qualitative nature and gathered through interviews, while the data on jobseekers was collected through a quantitative telephone survey. The study also includes a special focus on the call centre industry in the Maltese island of Gozo.

Further research was carried out with the assistance of Malta Enterprise – a government organisation that offers incentives to investors wishing to set up businesses in Malta. Data on the number of employees employed by each call centre and on their engagement and termination forms were sourced through ETC.

The study did not capture data from employees actually working in the sector. Therefore, it can be assumed that the information on the working conditions of employees is based on the employers’ perspective rather than on employees’ direct experiences.

Characteristics of call centre industry

Malta’s call centre industry has grown steadily over the past three years, possibly due to the financial incentives offered by the government to companies intending to set up such centres in the country. Call centres offer a variety of inbound and outbound services: inbound services are generally established with the aim of helping and assisting clients, while outbound services mainly focus on telesales and market research. The research shows that call centres tend to employ a higher proportion of female workers, possibly because this type of work offers flexible working hours and can be done on a part-time basis. In terms of age, the majority of workers in the sector are in their early twenties.

Findings of study

Job characteristics

The study found that Malta’s call centre industry employs a mix of full-time and part-time workers, who are either on fixed-term employment contracts or contracts of an indefinite duration; the latter are understood as being permanent positions. Workers with at least two languages are less commonly found in the industry and are more likely to be offered a permanent contract. The research found that all of the call centres offer employees the option of working full time or part time, and that part-time workers are often used to tackle surges in business during peak times.

Workers are often expected to work in shifts since many of the call centres offer a 24-hour service. In many cases, employees are required to work a minimum of 15 hours a week, although employers tend to be flexible regarding the number of hours that part-time workers may actually work. In the case of call centres involved in telesales, work is more structured as it has to fit within the ‘acceptable selling times of the country’.

Remuneration

The study finds that ‘salaries within the sector vary but are more or less within similar brackets’. For instance, a basic call centre agent can earn a gross salary of about €10,000 to €13,000 a year. The hourly rate for part-time workers ranges between €4.50 and €5, while technical support staff earn about €6 an hour. All of the call centres that participated in the study ‘offer some form of bonuses to their workers’. These bonuses are usually performance related or, in the case of telesales, are based on sales-related commissions.

Family-friendly measures

The concept of family-friendly measures is limited in the call centre industry. However, the research revealed that ‘in the case of good employees, they may take the trouble to find working hours which would be acceptable to both the employee and employer’. Demands for flexibility have to fit in with the call centre’s schedule of shift times nevertheless.

Few of the call centre companies offer health insurance and, of the eight call centres operating from Malta, only one offers such a service to all of its employees. In some cases, the company may offer a good rate, but it is up to the employee to pay for this insurance.

Staff turnover

Staff turnover is considered to be high among call centre workers, especially where the work is of a monotonous nature. In the study, ‘telesales was identified as the area of services where turnover is particularly high’. However, turnover was lower in cases where the work was more varied. The study also found that a high staff turnover can be stress-related, since targets have to be reached in order to ensure that the contract terms are respected. Due to the young age of many of the call centre employees, this type of work may be seen as temporary until better and more stable employment is found.

Conclusions

Overall, the study highlights how the work of call centre agents is ‘demanding, requires more communications skills, is target oriented and can be stressful’. Moreover, the wage of a basic call centre agent is quite low. Nonetheless, this type of work has grown steadily during the last three years, although the industry is considered to be highly competitive and volatile.

Anna Borg, Centre for Labour Studies

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