Call-centre boom in Germany a mixed blessing

26th October 2007, Comments 0 comments

26 October 2007, Berlin (dpa) - The call-centre business has boomed in Germany in recent years. Currently there are some 415,000 people employed in the sector, 10 times as many as there were 10 years ago.

26 October 2007

Berlin (dpa) - The call-centre business has boomed in Germany in recent years. Currently there are some 415,000 people employed in the sector, 10 times as many as there were 10 years ago.

The boom has been felt most in the formerly communist east, where low rents, state subsidies, high unemployment and low wages, despite a relatively well educated workforce, have helped convince call centre companies to set up shop.

Local politicians are enthusiastic. The economics minister of the eastern state of Brandenburg turned up in person when Walter Services opened its call centre in Frankfurt an der Oder in 2005.

Unemployment is running at around 18 per cent in this city on the Polish border.

By the end of this year, the company will employ 1,000 staff. It already has 2,000 workers on its books in Magdeburg in the neighbouring state of Saxony-Anhalt.

But not everyone is happy. Andrea Wolf, a 51-year-old with a university arts degree, was thrilled when she landed her first full- time job in four years.

She lasted just four weeks before her manager told her: "You're just not up to the job." Wolf had failed to close mobile phone contracts at the required rate of four per hour.

Others speak of intense pressure, close monitoring of their calls, rude clients and respondents irritated at receiving unsolicited calls.

Sociologist Karen Shire has been researching the sector for the past four years, funded by Germany's powerful trade union movement.

Call-centre companies are treating the impoverished eastern states as a kind of "testing ground," Shire believes.

Call-centre workers feel their jobs are insecure. They often do not have fixed contracts.

In her book, written jointly with Ursula Holtgrewe, Shire writes that a full-time call-centre employee in the east of the country earns on average 17,469 euros (24,940 dollars) a year, by contrast with 22,618 euros in the west.

Largely as a result of this discrepancy, the sector continues to expand in the east, profiting from Germany's continuing economic upswing that has slashed unemployment across the country.

By contrast, growth in the call-centre sector has come to a halt in south-western Germany. In this prosperous region, where unemployment is running at a little under 5 per cent, wages are too high for call-centre jobs to be attractive.

DPA

Subject: German new

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