Durban - Nonjabulo Shezi, 25, an information technology (IT) graduate of uMlazi, south of Durban, had high hopes of a bright future when she obtained her degree in 2015, but she could not secure a job in the IT sector.

A friend told her about a call centre in uMhlanga that was hiring agents, and her former Model C education as well as her English accent scored her the job.

Although she thought a basic monthly salary of R3750 was too little for a 10-hour shift, plus commission based on her sales, she said she had no choice but to take the job.

Shezi is still employed at the company and earning the same salary.

She is one of thousands of young people, including university graduates, employed at call centres across the country.

South Africa’s unemployment rate in the first quarter this year was 26.7%.

A recent campaign on social media called Call Centre Revolution, which is apparently targeted at one of the centres in uMhlanga, has attracted a great deal of discussion from agents.

They have taken to Twitter to voice their complaints about poor salaries, unfair dismissals, racism and long working hours.

The EFF has promised to take on the call centre industry and end the exploitation of the “black child”.

According to SA Commercial website, until a few years ago India boasted a booming call centre industry, but this has taken a different turn as more international companies are outsourcing in South Africa.

Shezi explained that while the company offered a commission, the chances of meeting its high targets were almost impossible.

She spends R60 on return taxi fare to uMhlanga daily, contributes R1 500 towards groceries at home and spends R500 on her cosmetics for the month.

She is worried that since the second-biggest portion of her salary goes towards her transport costs, the recent petrol price hike would hit her pocket hard.

“What we are earning is not enough for anyone to make a living. The working hours are unreasonable. Agents are fired on a daily basis for minor offences. The future looks bleak,” she said.

Shezi blamed the lack of union representation for the continued exploitation of workers, their poor salaries and unfair dismissal.

Thobile Mhlongo, a qualified criminologist and a call centre agent at another company in uMhlanga, said growth was limited to being promoted to team manager.

“I have worked at the call centre for two years. It’s frustrating because growth is limited and there is no department that suits my qualification. It is not easy to make money through commission and everything makes me feel hopeless,” she said.

Siphelele Mthembu, a former call centre agent, said she was forced to change her name to an English one to appeal to her UK-based clients.

“At work I couldn’t be Siphe­lele. My name was Stacy. I felt uneasy about having to change my own name for work purposes. Thank God, I did not stay long,” she said.

Call centre employees from a Durban-based company had written a letter of complaint to their employer. They had complained the company failed to be transparent about how much they were paid per hour, for working on holidays and Sundays.

The workers claimed that in response the company forced them to sign agreements to arrive at work 15 minutes early, extra time they were not being paid for.

The company’s management did not comment at the time of publication.

Chris Marais, a labour expert at CA Labour Law, said it was true that call centre workers were subjected to exploitation and treated as cheap labour, saying this was a national problem.

He said very few earned decent salaries.

“The law is clear that corrective measures should be in place before a decision to dismiss. Workers can take the company to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration,” he said.

Marais said the challenges in unionising the call centre industry were that the workers were always chasing better salaries and moved all the time, which made it difficult for unions to keep the membership numbers.

He proposed that workers appoint a workers’ forum, a structure which would operate similarly to a union to have a representation and a voice.

Daily News