A major jobs cull is on the horizon at a North East probation service as machines look set to replace some functions carried out by staff.
The Northumbria Community Rehabilitation Company (NCRC), which is run by the French catering company Sodexo, is set to shed 131 jobs (around 30% of its workforce) as chiefs look to cut costs.
Unions have slammed the plans, which have emerged in the wake of a divisive privatisation programme, as “downright dangerous”.
It comes as Sodexo plans to install ATM-style kiosks which would allow offenders to report to services without having to meet an officer.
The move to “biometric reporting” would see an offender’s identity checked using fingerprint technology.
A face-to-face meeting could then be requested by the offender.
It is also thought that low-risk offenders may in future be monitored via a call centre under the plans, which Sodexo insists are in the early stages.
The job cuts are expected to be spread out over a 12-month period.
Probation service union NAPO believes the measures, if implemented, could put the public at risk.
Ian Lawrence, general secretary of NAPO, said members feel let down by Justice Secretary Chris Grayling.
“We are angry and disappointed about this news. Probation staff have been through hell over the last 18 months dealing with Grayling’s so called reforms and now many of them are facing redundancy and job insecurity.
“When we met with Sodexo earlier this year they told us there would be no reductions in workforce.
“The use of call centres and machines instead of highly skilled staff is down right dangerous and will put the public at risk.”
A Sodexo Justice Services spokesman said it was opening consultation on the plans with staff across the six UK centres that it operates.
“We are in the process of sharing our future plans with employees across the six CRCs that we operate, including Northumbria CRC.
“Given that we will be formally consulting on these plans, it would be inappropriate to comment further at this stage.”
“Regarding the enhanced voluntary redundancy scheme, we are complying with the National Agreement negotiated between the unions and NOMS.
“We are looking at the possibility of introducing biometric systems in the future but details have not yet been confirmed.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 01 Apr 2015
Is Charles West the oldest worker in the North East at the of age of 83?
The active pensioner more than holds his own at the North East call centre where most of his colleagues are in their 20s and young enough to be his great grandchildren.
But while the widower admits the work helps keep him busy and is an antidote to loneliness, the main reason for holding down the job is money.
“I’m working because I need to,” he said. “I need the extra money. My pension isn’t enough. I get £169 a week but £105 of that goes on rent and rates.”
Charles of Washington, Tyne and Wear, is one of a growing number of people working past the default retirement age of 65 which was abolished in 2011.
Now there are almost 30,000 people of this age group still in employment in the North East making up 6% of the region’s work force.
Others are doing so to help out their families who haven’t been lucky enough to get a job and are relying on benefits which are being continually squeezed by the Government.
That isn’t the case with Charles as his two sons financially help him out, but he prefers to stand on his own two feet.
“With the help of my walking stick,” he joked.
It was in 1950 he first got a job in a furniture factory and over the years has had many jobs, mostly as a sales rep.
“Because I kept changing jobs I never got round to taking out a private pension,” he explained.
Charles now works at Doxford International Business Park, Sunderland, for 2Touch, part of the Parseq group, who he approached for a job about four years ago.
“I was delighted to join 2Touch. It is a very friendly place and I currently work alongside a team of 18 people.
“There are a wide range of ages and we get along very well, helping and supporting each other.”
His wife, Lorraine, died in 2006 and he said the job gives him “a reason to get up in the morning”.
“Instead of moping around the house I go to work,” he said.
At night he enjoys a can of Grolsch after work, two as a treat, or maybe a can of gin and tonic.
“Then I fall asleep,” he said.
He has no plans to retire in the future. “I’ll work until I drop,” said Charles.
“How can I live otherwise? They’ll have to carry me out in a box, still talking and still selling things.”
> Which is fine if that’s what you want to do. But what about all the other poor buggers who are being forced to work till they drop too, even though they don’t want to ?
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 07 Oct 2014
One Hartlepool woman says it works out much more beneficial for her to travel out of town for part-time work than it is to work in town.
Julia Turnbull, from Throston, travels to work at a call centre in County Durham.
She says even though she works 24 hours a week, she is better paid than if she got a full-time supermarket job in Hartlepool.
The married mum-of-two said:
“I work part-time and probably get more than most full-time workers.
“It’s still hard work with childminding costs, but it works out better money.
“Our town is poor on wages, I wouldn’t get out of bed for that money.
“Even travelling out of town works out as better money.”
“I really do feel for everyone who is on minimum wage as it’s the 21st century and people are still struggling in this day and age, no wonder there are people in so much debt or not working as they can’t afford to live.”
Source – Hartlepool Mail, 29 Aug 2014
> I’ve always thought that working in a call centre must be a pretty grim job – I didn’t realise quite how grim…
A call centre manager has launched legal action against one of the region’s biggest employers after being sacked following an incident in which a man was kicked unconscious at his desk.
Mother-of-two Fay Hand was dismissed after bosses said she had not done enough to tackle bullying and harassment among staff at the EE offices, in Darlington.
But the 37-year-old from Wynyard Village, near Stockton, has taken the mobile phone company to an employment tribunal, claiming she was unfairly sacked after 17 years with the company.
The hearing at Teesside Magistrates’ Court was told that an investigation was launched after a call handler kicked a colleague in the head as the man was sitting at his desk, leaving him unconscious.
The attacker later alleged that he had been provoked after being bullied by members of his team.
The man claimed that in one incident three weeks earlier a Fifa computer game was taken from his bag.
The game was later recovered, but a colleague took his car keys from his pocket and removed the game from his car, before holding it to ransom.
Fake disciplinary hearings were also held by team members, the tribunal heard.
Operations manager Mrs Hand was told about the incident with the game by the men’s team leader.
But EE claims Mrs Hand should have done more to prevent the alleged bullying and taken action when she was made aware of it.
Tracey Dawe, EE employee relations specialist, who was involved in Mrs Hand’s disciplinary case, told the hearing: “There should have been an investigation into the alleged taking of the keys.
“She didn’t do enough when she became aware of it.”
However, Ms Dawe agreed it was unfair that Mrs Hand had never been asked to explain during the investigation why she had not taken further action.
The hearing was also told Mrs Hand was not made aware of what Judge Gerald Johnson described as ‘schoolboy pranks‘ which took place among the team – one of eight she managed at the time.
Judge Johnson asked Ms Dawe: “How can she possibly fail to prevent something she doesn’t know anything about? She can’t can she.”
Seven people were sacked following the assault, including the victim, the attacker and the team leader.
The Northern Echo reported in January how Darlington MP Jenny Chapman held talks with EE bosses after concerns were raised about working conditions at the call centre.
Staff claimed that bosses at the company’s Darlington site were acting in an unreasonable and heavy-handed manner.
In response, the company said it took seriously its responsibilities to its staff.
The tribunal continues
> The impression I get after reading that is of battery chickens pecking each other out of frustration. I think I’d rather be on the dole than work in an environment like that.
Source – Northern Echo, 08 Aug 2014