Despite all medical and sanitary guidelines to avoid social gatherings, and government decrees to close non-essential services during the Covid-19’s pandemic, telemarketing companies continue to operate normally throughout Brazil. It seems that Almaviva, Atento, Teleperformance, and other large outsourced call centers believe they are living on a separate planet. These companies are operating in full swing, ignoring or minimizing workers reports about sick colleagues or contact with infected people.
After a week of uncertainty and despair, call center operators begin to take matters into their own hands. Wild strikes are spreading all over Brazil, as workers decide together to abandon all operations. Call center companies are the perfect environment for a virus outbreak, since it crowds hundreds of people who share equipment into poorly ventilated rooms – not to mention the significant absence of basic safety tools to avoid a possible spreading of the disease, such as gel alcohol, and cleaning of the workspace.
This Thursday morning (March 19th), female operators of Fidelity, in Lauro de Freitas, Bahia-BR, have abandoned their posts and protested in front of the company. Again in the state of Bahia, there was a protest in Feira de Santana (the first city with a confirmed case of coronavirus in the state), and in the state capital Salvador – the two most populated state’s cities.
Also in the Northeast, workers paralyzed Almaviva in Teresina, Piauí-BR – the largest company in the city, concentrating thousands of people in the same building, when the workers simply called their colleagues out. Protests have also occurred at the same company in the state of Juiz de Fora, Minas Gerais. there operators broke out on the streets singing “Oh, what goes on in their minds? If we continue, will get coronavirus! ”.
In Goiânia, capital of the state of Goiás, the streets were also a site of struggle. BTCC-Oi workers closed the BR-153 highway shouting “quarantine is the solution, health and protection!” The management agreed to receive a committee of workers for negotiations, proposed letting workers in high risk groups go home, and postpone the holidays of those who asked. However, the workers’ solution to containing the pandemic was to suspend their work.
Also in Goiânia, Atento was paralyzed by its employees, who have denounced the company’s policy of persecuting those who talk about health within the workplace. Supervisors attempted to block and remove employees from message groups and even turn off the televisions during news about Covid-19. As a response to the protest, Atento’s management called the police to repress the strike.
On social media there was a call for a general shutdown of call centers across Brazil on Friday, March 20th. In São Paulo, the country’s largest city and the one with more Covid-19 cases, employees from Almaviva, Atento, Teleperformance, LiQ, and Contact Center units have already joined the movement. The claim is an immediate suspension of all activities due to the pandemic, with full maintenance of salaries.
By refusing to close their doors and let their employees stay home, companies endanger not only the lives of their workers, but of all the people around them and, ultimately, the entire population. After all, the virus proliferates exponentially.
Brazil has yet to follow the precedent of South Korea. According to newspaper reports, South Korea has managed to stabilize the Covid-19 outbreak and the number of cases has started to fall. However, the presence of a single infected person in a single call center room has had a disastrous effect. In a single company alone, 90 new cases and another 200 suspects were confirmed. In the following days, the official death toll jumped from 3 to 63.
In Portugal, the Union of Call Center Workers is calling for the closure of call centers with more than 200 workers due to the fact that there are workplaces where employees share the same materials (headphones and microphones). In response to the threatening situation, the workers are demanding the closure of the operation centers and the implementation of remote work. They have scheduled a strike for March 24th.
In Brazil, the attitude of the bosses, who insist on maintaining a non-essential service such as telemarketing aimed at sales or customer retention, occurs with the support of the workers’ unions in this sector. In most states, the official position of the telecommunications unions is to ask companies only to ensure the cleanliness of the environment, without, however, requiring a quarantine. That is why, as a rule, these stoppages are the result of the workers’ own initiative, who do not expect such efforts to save lives.
Update by Disk Revolta:
On March 20th, workers stopped operations in several regions of the country. There’s no centralized forum reporting this issue, but as far as we know, protests took place in at least 14 companies:
– BTCC of Curitiba (Paraná)
– AlmaViva from Limeira (São Paulo)
– AlmaViva from Jundiaí (São Paulo
– AlmaViva from Juiz de Fora (Minas Gerais)
– Attentive to São Bernardo do Campo (São Paulo)
– AlmaViva from Teresina (Piauí)
– AlmaViva from Guarulhos (São Paulo)
– LIQ (former Contax) from Recife (Pernambuco)
– Fidelity Lauro de Freitas (Bahia)
– Telematics of Palmas (Tocantins)
– Belo Horizonte Mondiale (Minas Gerais)
– Atento in Goiânia (Goiás)
– Tel da Barra Funda (São Paulo)
– BTCC-Oi de Goiânia (Goiás)
A day after this, the president updated his last decree, adding telemarketing companies to the list of essential services that should be maintained during the pandemic. We can consider this change as an attempt to stop mobilizations in the sector
Some protests continued to happen over the next few days, even though with less intensity. This is partly due to the fact that the call center operations had already started to become more empty, a trend that became more pronounced in the following days. The pressure on the companies has caused many of them to adopt the home office, or to give workers a few days vacation, which in some cases are already being renewed. In addition, many operators began to miss out for fear of becoming infected, or because they were already sick. And, as expected, layoffs also started to happen.
In the last few days, the whole scenario in Brazil has become more confused. The federal government initiated a strong attack against social isolation measures, and thus managed to mobilize a real concern for the majority of the country’s population: the fear of unemployment, hunger or the impossibility of working, for the self-employed. As a result, a revolt against the quarantine grows among the workers. In WhatsApp groups of telemarketing operators, or pages on social networks, however, this is still not the emphasis. Operators who still have to go to work are angry with their bosses, and those on vacation wonder what will happen when they run out. We should keep our eyes in it because new conflicts will continue to appear.
São Paulo, March 19, 2020, first published in Portuguese by Passa Palavra.