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Is your call centre safe?

Rashmi Ail | December 22, 2005

The recent rape and murder of a call centre employee in Bangalore sent shivers up the spines of millions manning cubicles across the country. It came as a wake up call.

Given the odd working hours, the tender age group of agents and the apathy of most people when it comes to rescuing strangers, the security and protection of people working at call centres needs to be given topmost priority.

Amit Verma, HR spokesperson for an international Mumbai-based call centre called Adventity, says, "We have adopted a variety of measures to ensure the safety and security of our employees. These can be clubbed into three major parts -- the driver, vehicle and process.

"We ensure that all drivers wear uniforms and carry identity cards at all times. If there is a replacement, we call the agents well in advance and inform them about the new driver, giving them his identity card number. Usually, the same driver is appointed for a particular route, so he is a known face. In the case of an unknown face, agents are required to confirm the identity card number.

"We also train drivers about certain dos and don'ts. They are told to make sure the employee has walked into the gates of the building compound before proceeding. Likewise, the driver is instructed not to get out of the car to escort any person."

Verma says his company has sought the services of security agencies as well as the police to do thorough background checks on their drivers. They ensure that none of them have a criminal record and insist on them submitting their ration card and a photocopy of their driving license. Their addresses are also verified. A breath analyser has been installed at the security gate, to ensure that no driver or employee enters the office premises drunk. Random checks are conducted.

"One of our security guards intercepts the vehicle at the second pick-up spot at intervals, to check if the driver is carrying his licence," adds Verma. "The idea is to drive home the fact that the drivers are being watched. We also check the vehicle for broken glass and general overall condition once a week."

The security gate at Adventity has a direct line for emergency calls. This number is published behind the identity card of every employee so they can intimate the company in case of any untoward incident.

Most vehicles used by call centres look alike, so how does an agent recognise an authorised vehicle? A fluorescent strip of paper is placed on the windshield, the colour of which changes every month. Agents are made aware of the colour on the first day of every month.

As far as the process part is concerned, rosters are prepared keeping in mind that no woman employee will be picked up first or dropped last. In case of an emergency, if an employee is not keeping well and has to be rushed home at 2 am, a security guard escorts her to her doorstep.

"We usually prefer men working on the graveyard shifts," says Verma. "We also regularly seek feedback from employees with regard to the process being followed and rectify any issues that may arise. The transportation officer is in regular touch by phone with the first and second agent to be picked up as well as the last and second last one to be dropped. Employees are made aware of all systems, processes and rights at the induction itself."

Like most things in life, call centre agents have different opinions about the facilities provided to them by their respective organisations.

Smita Hirlekar, a call service representative at JP Morgan says, "I feel absolutely safe. I'd say JP has the best transportation system. We get a pick up and drop whereas most call centres do not provide both. We are not supposed to travel alone. If we are alone in a vehicle, a security guard escorts us to our doorstep. If any stray issue does arise, we can always report the matter to our Team Leader, who can take prompt action."

On the other hand, a call centre employee working with an international call centre in Malad, suburban Mumbai, on condition of anonymity, confides, "There have been so many times when I have been the last person dropped. I'm alone with the driver and no security guard is provided. This is true of other call centres as well. No one really bothers. However, I consider working at a call centre to be safe. One stray incident cannot make them dangerous for all."

Ajay Soneji, security-in-charge at Lawkim, another Mumbai-based call centre, has a different take on the matter. "We make sure no girl is alone with the driver at any time. All agents leave in a group. Even if you provide security guards, you can never know what their intentions are. Who is to police the police? The transporters and drivers at Lawkim have been associated with us since the inception of the call centre. To date, nobody has had any trouble."

Kamlesh Desai, transport-in-charge at Zenta, another call centre, adds, "We inform agents of the name of the driver, his mobile number as well as vehicle number in advance. This information is provided on a daily basis. One compulsory rule at Zenta is that no lady agent is to be the first picked up or last one dropped. At the induction itself, employees are told not to board the vehicle if there is any other driver present."

Most international call centres have given security and safety precautions their due, while many others are in the process of beefing up their systems. The only fly in the ointment seems to be the fact that we have conveniently ignored the age-old dictum, 'Self defence is the best defence.' Female employees need to face their fears and take necessary precautions. After all, better safe than sorry.

Is your call centre safe? What do you think can be done to improve safety? Tell us.

Crime: It could happen to you

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Read what others have to say:

Number of User Comments: 4

Sub: Call centre safeguard message

We are running a callcentre (Mindmill)in Delhi. I believe we should prepare to lady staff for thier self defence apart from own security arrangement with ...

Posted by Mohan Chandra

Sub: Is call centre safe...

Engage/hire women as drivers to transport women employees !

Posted by Venkatramana D

Sub: All words no action

It is deplorable that we have already started forgetting Prathibha's murder. Despite all the hue and cry the issue raised, nothing has improved as far ...

Posted by Suma

Sub: Regarding Safety of Call centre Employees

Dear Sir, After finishing the duties when they reached their home all should inform to the office by Mobile that they have reached home safely ...

Posted by K.M.Nooruddin.


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