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A day in the life of the future

Posted on December 10, 2013 by

Imagine working for a trade union; one which is formidable and respected, one forever being sought by Radio 4. An indomitable body of professionals who never resort to strikes and scuffles, braziers and megaphones, because they’re so heavy with influence and history that they need only tap the right minister on the shoulder to have their voice heard and heeded.

Imagine working for the magnificent British Medical Association.

bmahouse

When I saw the BMA were recruiting in Glasgow a few years ago I was delighted and surprised. My surprise increased when I was sent to a call centre for the interview. Sitting prim and nervous in the reception area, a tacky room with walls that trembled if you brushed against them, I wondered what this cheap and nasty office could possibly have to do with the great and august BMA.

I watched the staff as I waited to be called. I saw them ask permission to go to the toilet. I saw them snatch drinks of water from the cooler then dive back to their desk before they’re questioned. I saw people tripping over their feet, shambling round the floor to ask a manager a question whilst staying plugged into their computer by their headset, getting entangled on someone’s chair and unhooking themselves. I thought of slaves in manacles.

I got the job. I did it for eight years. Let me tell you about it.

The BMA, an organisation rich and powerful, chooses to outsource work to the huge multinational service provider Serco where it’ll be done dirt cheap. The media is full of stories about how Serco lies in order to retain government contracts, but the BMA has entered into a contract with the company to run the BMA’s employment-law helpline. Doctors who contact their union for help will speak not to a legally-qualified BMA adviser, but to one of the low-paid call-centre staff on Serco’s 120,000-strong payroll.

The doctors don’t know this and believe they’re speaking to the BMA, an illusion which Serco and the BMA prolong as far as they can. Various tricks are used to fool the doctors into a false confidence. For example, I worked for the Midlands office of the BMA, so when I took charge of a doctor’s case he would be given my direct phone number so he could bypass the call centre queue and go straight to me.

However, he mustn’t know I’m in a Glasgow office, as I’m pretending to be his ‘local adviser’. So the doctor is given a fake Birmingham number which then re-routes to my Glasgow phone. Should the good doctor make polite conversation and ask what the weather’s like in Birmingham today I’ll just laugh and say “Oh, you know, the usual…”

The deceit isn’t watertight, though. We do occasionally get the inevitable eminent London surgeon who expects to be spoken to by equally eminent Londoners and shouts that he “won’t have anyone Scotch!”, leading to the delicate operation of conveying to him that unfortunately we’re all ‘Scotch’, without revealing we’re speaking from the hated Scotchland.

This is what outsourcing does: promotes cheating and lies for profit. It’s cheaper for the BMA to have fake advisers working in a shabby Glasgow call-centre than to directly employ qualified employment law experts in London and the regions. Why pay a lofty London wage when there are desperate Glaswegians crying out for work? Outsource it. Ship it to Scotchland. Get it dirt cheap.

Outsourcing also degrades the relationship between the employer and the staff. The BMA has a whole office working for it in Glasgow, dealing directly with its members, representing it to the world, yet the BMA has absolutely no idea who we are: it doesn’t recruit us, it doesn’t train us, it doesn’t pay us, it can’t sack us and it doesn’t know if we’re fairly treated or not. The Serco staff represent the BMA but have nothing to do with the BMA.

And there’s another pool of workers who are even further alienated from the body they work for: Serco use agency staff on zero-hours contracts. They’re employed neither by the BMA nor Serco. They work for a faceless agency, on the flimsiest of terms, yet they represent the proud and dignified BMA to the world.

These people, on low pay and without even a fantasy of job security, advise doctors on their employment rights, whilst having none themselves. They work for a union but have no union of their own. Plus, in a call centre, conversation between employees is actively discouraged so people are less likely to feel solidarity. You’re plugged into a computer all day, taking constant calls, with each desk sectioned off by what are lovingly called ‘baffle boards’.

In the call centre we press GO. Immediately a wave of calls comes in, from doctors who are being bullied, being sacked, having their workloads increased, having their clinic closed or having their pay cut, and we work tirelessly all day to help them.

In the midst of this furious flurry, a side-door opens and a manager emerges. She holds a clipboard where she’s done sums showing she has too many staff today. She selects a zero-hours employee and slinks across the room to tell him to go home, but the employee is busy on the phone to a GP who’s distraught, having been diagnosed with breast cancer.

She’d been promised a promotion to partnership in the surgery, but now her colleagues are reluctant. The zero-hours employee is reassuring her, telling her what rights she has and detailing precisely how the BMA can help. Throughout, as this man is trying to do his job, the manager stands silently at his shoulder, drumming her pen on the clipboard. As soon as he’s off that call he’ll be told to leave.

“But I told the doctor to phone back in ten minutes,” he explains. “She was too upset to speak, so I said to phone me back once she’d stopped crying and that I’d be here.”

But the answer is implacable: big deal, we’ll say you’re on a break or something and the call will just be bumped to someone else. Who cares? It’s the stats that matter and the stats say you have to go home today.

The BMA have no control over any of this, as they’ve handed it all to Serco (who are currently under investigation by the Serious Fraud Office, but hey, you can’t make a dirt-cheap omelette without etc). Serco instruct us to lie to doctors: we pretend we’re in Birmingham, we pretend we’re in Leeds; we have false telephone numbers and fake job titles. We pretend our mission is to defend doctors, whereas it’s really only to make sure we answer a call within three rings and don’t go to the toilet.

This day isn’t unusual. It’s the same as every other day, for an ever-increasing number of people in horrible jobs, endured only because the alternative is so terrifying. When the UK government talks of “growth” and of replacing public-sector employment with private-sector jobs, these are the sorts of jobs it’s talking about – something less like a career and more akin to the wretched existence of a battery hen.

lowpay

As Labour compete with the Tories to be “tough on welfare”, more and more people find themselves swept into such misery for wages that don’t come anywhere close to the cost of living. (And if you can’t find even work that grim, you’ll be gobbled up into a “workfare” programme where you still have to do it, except without getting paid.)

The life of a serf is all the once-proud United Kingdom has to offer, whoever we vote for, and I don’t want to live in that country any more. Can we have our own one, please?

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    84 to “A day in the life of the future”

    1. Nkosi says:

      Not as long as I have a voice to shout and complain it won’t

    2. ewen says:

      I am a manager in an in house business to business call centre in Ireland. We treat our staff like human beings, enjoy the craic and get decent wages. This includes our agency staff. We are working under Irish employment law, in a country independent from Westminster. Says it all really.

    3. Robin Ross says:

      Excellent article Julie.  Serco, ‘The biggest company you don’t know,’ as Kenneth Roy named it (or words to that effect) in the Scottish review a while ago. It’s got its bootprint is all over the place these days.
       
      The Scottish Review has recently been exposing the inner workings of Scotland’s NHS 24.  Once again an area of public service of the NHS is actually in the hands of a private company, Capita. If you are taken no weel during the night and you phone NHS 24 you will not be talking to a health professional, but to a call centre worker who is responding not so much to you as how the computer they operate reacts to your statements. Depending on the algorithms you will get some sort of treatment – or not, if the computer can’t cope with your condition.

    4. fiona cunningham says:

      I worked for RHL at Ibrox 5 years ago and it is exactly as you describe it!   Only stats mattered.

    5. Les Wilson says:

      It is obviously a tough way to try and live for sure. Unfortunately most of us realise the way the UK is going. In your case and I hope it will be the same for very many others we have a choice to make. When Westminster will willingly award themselves an 11% pay rise and yet people have to suffer such soul destroying conditions, it makes things even worse.

      We, here in Scotland cannot dictate what Westminster can do, just as they will have no say in what we do in future, which will not be in line with that corrupt archaic institution.

      We can form a better future, with better solutions made by ourselves for ourselves. Pass on the word of hope and that we can do things differently, in that ideal I trust, and others should also, for it really can and will, happen.

    6. iain taylor (not that one) says:

      I wonder if the banks operate like this too?
      It would explain a lot.

    7. kininvie says:

      Ironically, I have just hung up the phone after spending 27 minutes 38 seconds on hold to Scottish Power waiting to sort out a computer glitch on my leccy bill. After about 10 minutes, I was repeating to myself.  ‘I must not lose my temper with the call centre worker’. After 20 minutes, I was starting to go brain dead listening to the tenth repitition of some mantra about moving to the head of the queue. After 27 minutes, I could bear it no longer…..
       
      What you are saying here, Julie, sums up exactly where our culture of multinationals, business-speak, consultants and agencies have got us to. We consumers are lied to, promised a service that never materialises, deluded by advertising, and left powerless to get our complaints heard or our wrongs righted. I’m not a revolutionary or a even a socialist, and I believe that a just society needs to be able to create wealth as well as distribute it. But I do sometimes think that if there were barricades, my ancient limbs might rise to manning them.
       
      The question is what to do? The capitalist argument would be that there is a latent competitive advantage if you answer your phones promptly and use people that you pay properly and employ directly. And indeed there are a few companies that do this, but they are mostly small fry living in niche markets. All the big guys are cutting costs and outsourcing away like crazy. The UK Government is right up there with them – much of its considerable estate is now managed by Serco or Interserve. You can’t compete on costs if you are aiming to provide an ethical, responsive service. So what do you do?  Join in, because you won’t get the contracts if you don’t….
       
      Is a small, independent country the answer. Not sure, because this is bigger than any country.

    8. £9,262 a year for a check-out operator?  It’s interesting to compare it with a high-wage economy, such as Denmark.  According to Ekstra Bladet (http://ekstrabladet.dk/nyheder/politik/danskpolitik/article1765636.ece), the average salary for this job is DKK 19,141 a month, or £25,813 a year.

    9. Tasmanian says:

      The reason I’m posting here as Tasmanian and not Avonian or Somersetian is I came here on holiday, saw that bus drivers and hospital admins are paid AUD 50k, translated that back to GBP – $$$!

    10. Justin Kenrick says:

      Julie – that is one of the most extraordinary pieces I have read.
      It has what is so lacking in so much comment, analysis, politics – humanity, care, compassion; conveying how we are caught by our own care and fear in supporting those who exploit us, how it is so hard to extricate ourselves without hurting others. But we need to extricate ourselves, and then help extricate others. . . Thanks for helping us to do that.
      Thanks

    11. Murray McCallum says:

      I found that a bit of an eye opener (wonder what doctors think). The low wage culture is a slow killer for the entire economy.
       
      I think the link to Rachel Reeves’ attempt to be seen as the new leader of the war against people in poverty is an appropriate ending thought.

    12. crisiscult says:

      Quite sobering reading. One of my outrages is when anyone resistent to YES says something along the lines of ‘there are too many unanswered questions and there’s too much uncertainty’ and my blood starts to boil when I point out how employment rights have been dramatically eroded, even just in the last couple of years: fees for tribunals; 2 years before you have a tribunal claim for unfair dismissal, the ability of employers to buy off your unfair dismissal protection, and now the tories negotiating (or trying to) out of EU social chapter that will, I believe, see part-timers, fixed-termers, and agency staff, lose their current protections. Uncertainty? UNCERTAINTY? Did you expect all of that a few years ago? Or maybe you don’t care. Well, it’ll be too late when you do start caring.

    13. seoc says:

      This kind of filth exists and thrives on secrecy.

    14. cath says:

      Great article and I hope it’s shared with doctors in England! 
       
      I worked in a call centre for a taxi firm once.  In Edinburgh taking orders for taxis in London. Wee old women couldn’t understand why you needed postcodes and full details every single week for the same journey with the same driver to the same hairdressers they’d visited every week for 20 years.  The computer needed it. Business folk couldn’t understand why you had no idea where prominent London landmarks were.  I remember one chap swearing blind to an increasingly irate customer that there was no such place as “Houston Station” in London – not on the computer. 
       

    15. cath says:

      And if you consider the BMA is a supposedly high class organisation for doctors. Now consider what those at the bottom levels of society get. DWP, crisis loan lines and anything to do with benefits are all that with soul sucking humiliation chucked in.

    16. Brian Powell says:

      Robin Ross
      Are you sure about that? My daughter-in-law works for Scotland NHS 24, she was a ward sister before going there and is now a supervisor. All her staff are nurses.
      At least that was how it was the last time I talked to her about it.

    17. CameronB says:

      225 parliamentarians have recent or present financial private healthcare connections
      145 Lords have recent or present financial connections to companies involved in healthcare
      124 Peers benefit from the financial services sector
      1 in 4 Conservative Peers have recent or present financial connections to companies involved in healthcare
      1 in 6 Labour Peers have recent or present financial connections to companies involved in healthcare
      1 in 6 Crossbench Peers have recent or present financial connections to companies involved in healthcare

      More shocking facts and figures here;
      http://socialinvestigations.blogspot.co.uk/p/key-facts-of-lords-and-mps-connections.html

    18. Wayne says:

       
      What a total waste of your talent and ability, Julie.  But sadly this is a fate all too common for young graduates, trapped in menial and meaningless service sector jobs on low pay with crap career prospects. 
       
       
       
       

    19. gordoz says:

      O/T The One show has had to modify the statements made re shopping Yesterday  –
      Just heard a statement to set things straight on costs of supermarket food shopping in Scotland – The one show has clarified that last nights statement was not in fact true and only one sides opinion in the ref debate. Read out statement from SG and made it clear it was not a certainty cost would go up but could actually go down.
       
      Rev could you consider a statement piece to see if MSM do accordingly as with the State broadcaster just  to minute or record this in time so we can refer back to. If not then it is clear they purely jumped on a non corroborated band wagon story and lack the professionalism to rectify the spurious Unionist pro agenda  unlike what the One show have attempted to do and set straight.

    20. Romana says:

      I’m A junior doctor facing allegations after I complained about discrimination on grounds of disability. I’m frankly on the brink and I’ve been waiting for a call back from Liverpool office (?really) for 4 days. I’m desperate for union help. This article makes a lot of sense, especially the vast number of west of Scotland accents..

    21. Wayne says:

      If you follow through to the Guardian article linked in at the bottom of Julie’s piece and trawl through the comments, you eventually come to one of the most humorous comments I have read in a long time, which nearly had me rolling on the floor laughing:
       
      “If a man is not a socialist before he is forty he has a hard heart. If he turns fascist when he is forty he is probably having erection problems.”

    22. BeamMeUpScotty says:

      In the neoliberal paradise we now inhabit,subjects have become units of work.Once they can manufacture robots cheaply then even that lowly status will be redundant.What then?

    23. Dramfineday says:

      “Measures drive behaviours” and this article is a fine example of it Julie. Sounds like the BMA and Serco could do with a dose of John Seddon.

    24. TheGreatBaldo says:

      Speaking of outsourcing……
       
      Have Better Together started outsourcing their most odious and cheap smears to idiotic Tories at Westminister ?
      http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/10509480/Row-over-anti-English-racism-link-to-independence-referendum.html
       
      You know I swear this one was effectively debunked last year……
       
       

    25. Andy-B says:

      Good article Julie sad, but good.
       
      Is this the future, if so I don’t want to be part of it, I want to be part of a future, that promotes its people not degrades them, a future where belief is replaced by fear.
       
       
      Independence isn’t a panacea, but looking at the UK today its surely a step in the right direction.

    26. Mealer says:

      Thanks Julie for an excellent,though troubling,piece.The UK is heading in a different direction than the road I want to travel.You don’t have to be a left wing radical to be perturbed by what’s going on.Just a decent human being.I have a doctors appointment this week and will ask my GP for his opinion.

    27. lumilumi says:

      Thank you, Julie, for this piece.
       
      It serves to remind us of the fact that this neoliberal global economy brushes the workforce into two polar opposites. The high-fliers, the high-earners, and then the low-earners. The traditional middle-earners are being squeezed out and forced into the low-earning brackets, in order to protect the high earnings of the top half, or quarter, or ten percent, or one percent.
       
      A friend of mine was glad to get a call centre job in Ireland about 20 years ago. A Finnish company had outsourced their phone help to Ireland (lower corp tax) but they desperately needed people able to speak Finnish, and paid them a fair wage. She did well, rose through the ranks to be a group, then a section leader before she went on to do other things, and she and her Irish husband and kids are now doing pretty OK, even after the financial tsunami that hit Ireland.
       
      I’m glad, Julie, that you’re blowing the whistle a bit here. What will UK doctors, members of BMA, think when they learn that their phone help has no legal or medical qualifications? Even lies about his/her location because of “company policy”?
       
      The worst of rampant capitalism ought to be taken head on. Saying enough, this just isn’t right! The only people who benefit from this state of affairs are major shareholders who’re counting their untaxed profits on some tropical island.
       
      It’s so completely sick!
       
      Yet, not all are like that, some have integrity. The former Nokia CEO, the one who made Nokia a world leading brand in mobile communication, Jorma Ollila, quietly and dutifully paid all his taxes (60+ percent of his income) in Finland. Nokia really went downhill after the MS plant Elop (who didn’t pay taxes in Finland) took over.
       
      Oh well, we Finns will think of something else… It’s not like we’re against a wall for the first time. We’ve been there so many times before but because of our idependence, the government and/or parliament can use economic levers, we get by and survive, and continue to be among the richest countries of the world – usually above the UK on gini and Pisa and HDI and the like.

    28. turnbull drier says:

      O/T (sorry , but had to get this down..)
       
      Just had an Mori on the phone with an few interesting questions.. Specifically asking whether I found some statements on effective or not effective, these statements all seemed to be quality checking for possible BT lines to convince us all that we are Better Together…
       
      Anybody had similar??

    29. Robin Ross says:

      @Brian Powell
      I don’t think the Scottish Review would get many facts wrong.  Kenneth Roy is one of the last of an older breed of journalist – he checks his facts.

      NHS 24 is staffed by health professionals who (as far as I gather from what I have read) are only brought in once the initial contact has been established by the Capita call centre worker. In one case, a patient called on a number of separate occasions, but each time got a different diagnosis.  This was in large part due to the way the calls were processed. None of the diagnoses identified the septicemia which killed him.

       I don’t think we should complacently imagine that in an independent Scotland we would be impervious to the pressures to ‘outsource’, ‘streamline’ and bring in all the ‘efficiencies’ that are changing the services we depend on. So much has happened already it will be hard to reform.
       

    30. Andrew Morton says:

      This possibly explains why BT are so crap. They’ve outsourced their campaign to Serco.

    31. scottish_skier says:

      Just had an Mori on the phone with an few interesting questions.. Specifically asking whether I found some statements on effective or not effective
       
      Workmate was saying he had MORI on the phone too. Was leaving at the end of the day – need to ask more tomorrow.
       
      I hope you said the worst / most stupid pro-union statements were ‘really effective’ at convincing you to vote No 😉

    32. turnbull drier says:

      @ scottish_skier
       
      errr, I think I may have sold the jersey long before they got to those ones.. hmm, will need to be a bit more circumspect next time 🙂

    33. Peter says:

         Offly topic maybe.  But can somebody do a nice shiny article about how Unionists deny the existence of The Union.

         Scotland and england were 2 (count them) countries that united under a treaty and acts of 2 parliaments.  independence for Scotland (or england)  returns us to the previous state, no more and no less.

         Except that unionists insist that Scotland isn’t equal to england, wouldn’t be treated as an equal partner by any international organisation and that the treaty of Union just doesn’t exist.  

         If the Treaty that bound Scotland to england isn’t worth the paper it’s written on then Scotland must be an independent country occupied by a foreign power.  There are no other options.  Partners or occupied, which is it?

    34. Thomas William Dunlop says:

      Such a profound article, I write shaking with equal measures of anger & fright
       
      It utterly exemplifies the downward trajectory clinging to the British state will take us. The establishment (UKIP, tories, Labour & the rest of the westminster village) have been unchained by the demise of the Soviet Union and have been rolling back whatever gains the ordinary person had in the past 100 years. Now the Labour party has been re-imagined in the mold of the old liberal party that only gave lip service & sops to the disadvantaged in society, its full steam ahead back to the 19th century with poor houses and having the ragged trousered philanthropists paying thru the nose for the “privilege” of living, whilst the elite a feathered & feted from birth to death and arse wipe to senile dribble. It is my contention that we are witnessing the birth of a a Britain that is turning into the Haiti of Western Europe…only the insane would vote to stay in that

    35. Ian Brotherhood says:

      Non-Twitterers may not yet have seen this, and it don’t need no caption – it really deserves a D-Notice.
      pic.twitter.com/8akXvOzmVf

    36. lumilumi says:

      S_S, on the polls…
       
      I think the STV poll has already been debunked becuse they weightd it wrongly. Even so, the result is YES gaining and NO losing. NO has been haemoffeging for months now. That’s why they’re getting so shrill and silly.
       
      YES is gaining slowly. Every time a habitual No, or a Don’t Know are presented the facts, they move to YES. It is doable, and by god, for all the people of Scotland, I hope that you vote YES in 2014. The NO-alternative doesn’t bear thinking. Barnet formula scrapped, billions more haemmoraging to London, powers stripped from Holyrood…
       
      NO is a death wish.
       
      Hopefully enough Scots will see the light. Tories, Labourites, Alex Salmond haters, whoever. Hopefully Scots will see that the only way to save their country is to vote YES. Remaining in the union can only be a downward spiral. Totally against the general Scots feeling and thinking. Better together, eh?
       

       
      Mum just called. Dad’s been taken to hospital in an ambulance. Nothing life threatening. Mum was quite composed and matter-of-fact on the phone, recounting how she called the ambulance etc., and insisted that my brothers won’t be told until tomorrow when we know more.
       
      For some reason she just wanted to tell her daughter. His daugher, I’m very close with my dad. But she didn’t want to dwell on the thing – I wanted to talk more but she ended the phone call, as she does. She’s never been much of a phone-talker to me. Anyway, I promised to get there by 9am and she didn’t seem to mind that.

    37. Archie [not Erchie] says:

      @ lumilumi –  You and family in my thoughts and prayers. Anything you need just ask on this forum and we are with you

    38. TJenny says:

      Lumilumi – Fingers crossed that your dad’ll be ok.

    39. gerry parker says:

      @kininvie
      Check with the co-op for a dual fuel quote.
      http://www.cooperativeenergy.coop/about-us/
      I gave up on Scottish Power last year and have been very happy with the co-op.  They also put their tariffs up by a lot less than the others.
      g.p

    40. cath says:

      Interesting about the one show.  On the Morrisons FB page people were saying their own clarification wasn’t enough and they wanted as public a retraction from the BBC as the original or they would boycott. Makes you wonder if the supermarkets put pressure on? There is only ever so much mileage from misquoting and lying about what people say.  If your lies rebound on them they won’t be happy. 

    41. caz-m says:

      Talk about turning the clock back regarding working conditions. I remember in 2006 when working in BAE Systems in Govan, Jamie Webster stood up at a meeting and was furious because the majority of the workforce didn’t want to scrap their morning tea break.

      He said if you don’t give up your tea break then all sorts
      of terrible things would happen, including loss of orders or yard closure.

      A bit like Project Fear. So they offered the workforce £1000 less tax to give it up. They won the vote by a very small margin because they included long term sick in their calculations.

      Ever since then I lost all respect for Jamie Webster and his union buddies.

      To this day, all the workers on the Clyde get is a 30 minute lunchtime break during their 8 hour shift. No breaks in between. Sold down the river, so to speak.

    42. ronnie anderson says:

      LumiLumi, I hope your fathers ok, our thought are with you,as are our Prayers for you & your family.

    43. Red squirrel says:

      Julie, are you able to say what qualifications/training thr Serco staff had?
       
      I’ve been the recipient of BMA employment advice on many occasions, as have many others I know. They will be rather shocked to learn that their membership fees don’t add up to advice from actual BMA staff. I’m pretty speechless myself.

    44. Taranaich says:

      All the best, lumilumi.
       
      @crisiscult: One of my outrages is when anyone resistent to YES says something along the lines of ‘there are too many unanswered questions and there’s too much uncertainty’ and my blood starts to boil

      You’re telling me: how on earth can they criticize Yes for unanswered questions/uncertainty, but not the No side, who don’t even make an attempt to answer them?

      Simple: because they don’t have the power to answer questions. All questions must be answered by Westminster, because they’re the boss, not Scottish Labour, not Scottish Conservatives, not Scottish Lib Dems. They are entirely deferent to their UK masters, and so not only are they incapable of answering questions because they’re unknowns, but because they’re simply not allowed to.

      Why else do Lab refuse to actually suggest where they’d get the money for Childcare? Why else do they vote against the Bedroom Tax because they’d rather spend 50m than 20m, but not actually say where THAT money would come from? Why else do they have NOTHING to say of any semblance of solidity on Barnett, the EU, the pound, even the UK elections?

      The Yes folk have the power to answer questions, despite the crowing of No – because No realise that this is something which is beyond them. The Yes campaign are promising total power – the No campaign promise nothing but eternal deference to a greater power, no matter how wretched or evil.

    45. Ian Brotherhood says:

      It’s 100 years since Jack London’s John Barleycorn was published.
       
      For a vignette which captures perfectly what Capitalism is all about, see chapter XX – it’s free via the Gutenberg link in here:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Barleycorn_(novel)

    46. Jeannie says:

      @lumilumi
       
      Hope your Dad is ok.  Give him our best wishes from Scotland.

    47. southernscot says:

      Excellent article Julie.
      @lumilumi. I hope you father recovers,
      I really enjoy your contributions to the debate.

    48. Jack Beck says:

      LumiLumi – Holding your Dad in the light here in VA.

    49. Jeannie says:

      @Ian Brotherhood
       
      That’s just priceless.  ROFL

    50. Bill C says:

      Scary stuff indeed. I for one have no wish to live and work in a society like that. Thanks for the insight Julie.
      Lumilumi – Thought are with you and your family.

    51. Thepnr says:

      @lumilumi
      Fingers crossed for your dad. Really hope he will be well.

    52. Gordon Hay says:

      Completely off topic but my neighbour, a lifelong Scotsman reader, told me earlier this evening that they upped his quarterly subs from £49 to £89 without warning, but after he protested they refunded the difference to his bank account. Nonetheless he has cancelled the DD and tells me he will not look at the paper again. Way to go Hootsmon, but at least McKay and HN Gray will be with you to the bitter (together) end.

    53. Doug Daniel says:

      “The life of a serf is all the once-proud United Kingdom has to offer, whoever we vote for, and I don’t want to live in that country any more. Can we have our own one, please?”
       
      Yes.
       
      Excellent article as always, Julie.

    54. lumilumi says:

      Hey, thanks all who’ve given best wishes for my dad.
       
      I’m sure it’s just a minor scare because my mum hasn’t called me back. I’m sure tomorrow when I see him he’ll be a bit brusque because he’ll be embarrassed about the whole episode. Maybe he was a bit of a “new dad” in the 1970s but basically he’s a traditional Finnish man. You know, the kind that never talks about feelings. We never talk about feelings, we talk about weather. Precipitation and wind speeds and max/min temperatures as they compare to long-time mean trends. Dad’s even given me three popular meteorolgy books for Christmas… 😀
       
      Apropå, weather and climate. The Finnish Met Service just realeased a new survey that showed that every euro invested in it comes back tenfold because the sea and road warnings avoid accidents. I was a bit sceptical about this bit of “news”, costs and benefits of national met services, and when I saw that the US met service supposedly only returns two dollars for every one dollar spent… Well, this cost/benefit analysis is just a prelude to neolib privatisation of national met services.
       
      I think the question you have to ask is not how much the national met service costs but what would you do without it?
       
      No more shipping forecasts, no more wind/snow/flood warnings… A privatised met service in the UK would only put forth a pretty girl to tell about London weather, and, oh, maybe some snow or rain in the provinces.
       
      A national met service is an essential part of national infrastructure. It has to remain in public hands. In addition to weather forecast, met services the world over do important research on climate change. Maybe some of the vested commercial interests don’t like that and that’s why they’d like to privatise met services.

    55. theycan'tbeserious says:

      Welcome back to the 11th century !  They would have you believe that the feudal system is no longer, however I would suggest that it is still very much alive. The peasants (the many) struggle to survive on a daily basis and they pay their taxes under fear of punishment. That wealth goes up the pyramid keeping those above (the few) in the lifestyle they have become accustomed to. Those above have no concept of, nor care, about those below as those below are simply drones creating the wealth enjoyed by those above.
       
      Scotland has a rare opportunity to create a better society don’t let it slip away!  

    56. Bill C says:

      Thoughts are also with the Ukrainians fighting for their democracy in Independence Square tonight.

    57. Chic McGregor says:

      ” When Westminster will willingly award themselves an 11% pay rise”
       
      Not quite.  It is when they have someone else do it so they can feign indignation all the way to the bank.  Do keep up with the latest ‘S’ tactics (where ‘S’ stands for Spin in Westminster and Sleekit in Holyrood).

    58. Chic McGregor says:

      Lumilumi
      Best wishes
       
       

    59. Chic McGregor says:

      “Thoughts are also with the Ukrainians fighting for their democracy in Independence Square tonight.”
       
      Indeed.  Let us hope that, on a one time only basis, the future is orange.

    60. Chic McGregor says:

      Julie, thank you so much for this amazingly courageous piece of whistle blowing.  You are indeed the SERCO Serpico (one for older readers).  Well done.

    61. Alastair Ewen says:

      Here’s the job advert.  Less than 8 quid and hour and they want someone with a degree… Don’t all rush at once.

      http://www.jobsavailableuk.com/jobs/3112486/Helpline-Adviser-bma-for-Serco/

    62. joe kane says:

      The BMA high command isn’t exactly falling over itself to bring the DWP WCA Work Capability Assessment to an end despite its members voting overwhelming that it should be scrapped with immediate effect because of the dangers it poses to sick and disabled patients. That was back in June 28 2012. Scottish BMA members had already called for this lethal Atos parody of medical practice to be brought to a halt the previous month. 

      Those in charge at the BMA don’t think too highly of their own medical grassroots it seems.

      Ref –
      Doctors’ leaders could face protests over ‘fitness for work’ campaign snub 
      10 May 2013
      http://disabilitynewsservice.com/2013/05/doctors-leaders-could-face-protests-over-fitness-for-work-campaign-snub/

    63. john king says:

      I think you know what my feelings are on your blogs about call centres Julie and again you paint a bleak (workhouse) image of call centers and don’t give the opposite side of the picture,
       as I said before I’ve worked in a call centre for the last 15 years and yes I agree we shouldn’t be a nation of service workers (the vision that Thatcher had ), if we didnt have the Thatcher years I might be working in a shipyard or making  cars or something but I dont, why? because no such (well not many) jobs of that nature exist in my area, but call centres do 
      I owe my continued self esteem to the company I work for and I can hold my head high, 
      but when someone paints a picture of drones trudging into a workhouse to do a low paid job (I dont earn a big wage to be fair) on zero hours contracts (admittedly they do exist) and reading a script they dare not deviate from again disparages a part of society who take pride in what they do,
      this even if it was not your intention encourages a view of call centre staff as something less, to be ignored or in some cases despised,
      I’ve found that the most disgusting behavior towards me has been from people from towns nearby, when they hear a local accent they (by no means all) take a very supercilious attitude as if your not worthy.
       
      Last night I was at an award ceremony in Livingston where (among 20 odd other people) received an award which gave me a qualification recognized by The Institute of Customer Service,
       
      The company I work for will work me hard, I will be expected to meet targets, I do get stressed, but I do the job with dignity and pride because what I do makes a difference in peoples lives and I’ve often had people crying with gratitude due to my efforts,
      I wish we weren’t a service industry country Julie I wish with all my heart I did a job which actually made something, but I don’t and I am not ashamed of that I do what I have to do to make a living and take as much from the job as I can.
      Call centres are a symptom of Thatchers vision, who knows in ten/ fifteen years from now in an independent country maybe we’ll start to make things again and call centres will be less important to local communities but until then they can be the only thing that stop the disgusting DWP  from getting their hooks into people like me. 
       

    64. NorthBrit says:

      Someone who professes to be concerned about other people’s rationality has posted this on Twitter:
      https://twitter.com/colinwforster/status/410571684396015616

      Engagement of brain appears to be for [otherwise] rational people:
      http://www.brandrepublic.com/News/803113/Listening-Company-acquires-Essentiagroup/

    65. Bill Fraser says:

      @ Brian Powell It seems that Capita do provide the service (that does not mean that NHS 24 do not have a team of qualified Nurses and Doctors available for patients if the triage that Capita do requires a medical professional.  http://www.capitahealthandwellbeing.co.uk/media/308004/call_centre_assessment_at_nhs24.pdf

    66. Cath says:

      Capita only seems to have provided the computer technology behind NHS24 – the algorithms, and patient record technology.
       
      Its call centres are staffed by health information assistants, who take the non-clinical enquiries, which are then passed over to nurse advisers if they’re clinical and the patient is then referred to out of hours GPs,  A&E departments or 999 afterwards, depending on what’s required. They are not call centres run and staffed by Capita. All staff are NHS employees – at least to the best of my knowledge anyway. Be interested to know if it’s otherwise.
       
      With these kind of arrangements the algorithms will never be 100% right and there’ll always be cases where people aren’t correctly diagnosed or aren’t happy. But any such technology probably does need an IT company behind it.

    67. Frances says:

      North Brit
       
      That link you put up took me into the magazine Pulse Today.  The below is a link to an article which shows that private companies are to be given access to NHS Pensions schemes.  Privatisation of the NHS in England is well underway.  However, does this have any impact on the Scottish NHS I wonder?
       
      http://www.pulsetoday.co.uk/your-practice/practice-topics/pensions/private-providers-to-gain-access-to-nhs-pension-scheme-from-april-2014/20005238.article#.Uqg6XuKyPg0
       
       

    68. Ian Brotherhood says:

      This article is hitting the mark – check the Twitter feed: outraged doctors telling each other about this, leaving the BMA etc.

    69. crisiscult says:

      re comments on Ukrainian democracy, dig a little deeper before you start taking sides. I was in Ukraine during the Orange revolution and may not come as a surprise to know that students and unemployed were paid to take part in demos for both sides. Friends in Ukraine are on the scene and there are many reasons people are out on the streets. You may find in Ukraine, and Russia, and many other countries, that the proles on the streets are often pawns for the power machinations of the elites fighting for their own business interests. You’d be led to believe by our media that Timoshenko is an innocent – a political prisoner. Way more complicated.

    70. Vronsky says:

      @Bill C
       
      “Thoughts are also with the Ukrainians fighting for their democracy in Independence Square tonight.”
       
      Indeed.  Unfortunately thoughts also with the 70% of Scots who, offered democracy on a plate, don’t want it or aren’t sure if they want it.  It’s a funny old world.

    71. Horacesaysyes says:

      @Lumilumi – I hope everything’s okay with your Dad.

    72. HandandShrimp says:

      Call Centres do indeed seem to be the sweat shops of the 21st century. Do they have to be so soul destroying and unrewarding places to work? No 1 son worked in one for about 4 months. I think it was called Response but they called it Remorse. He left in a fit of panic thinking fearing they were going to retain him. The thought was more than he could bear.  

    73. RICHARD says:

      I worked for first direct 2005-06. FSA had warned about ppi but we were still on incentive to sell it and other financial ‘products’ in the ‘sale’ people got moved on for not selling.
      Despite their reputation,  I no longer bank there.

    74. Rooster says:

      BMA responds, denies everything.
      http://web2.bma.org.uk/pressrel.nsf/wall/3D1C9C936AF9A93E80257C3E0041910D?OpenDocument

      Well some things, they just don’t mention the others.

    75. moroc says:

      Can someone advise how many carriage returns I should have between paras?
      I’d like to post a reply to Red squirrel above (BMA member), but don’t want to muck it up and give Rev. work!

    76. Rev. Stuart Campbell says:

      “Can someone advise how many carriage returns I should have between paras?”

      Two. Always two.

    77. moroc says:

      Thank you, Rev. Stu !

    78. moroc says:

      Red squirrel
      They will be rather shocked to learn that their membership fees don’t add up to advice from actual BMA staff.
       
      You won’t have been speaking to ‘actual’ BMA staff for years now. When BMA set up the ‘askBMA’ service – around 2004(?) – they let go a lot of local office staff (directly employed by BMA) in order to outsource. Outsourced staff command much lower salaries, of course.
       
      The new service was call centre based – or ‘contact centre’ – as they like you to call them now because ‘call centre’ became a tarnished phrase. Therefore, the BMA was saving on local office salaries and did not need as much office space. Their outsourcer could cram 25 people into 3 or 4 call centre bays instead. To service the entire union membership. Which was (is?) the largest union in Europe.
       
      At that time, unless you were speaking to an industrial relations officer or local office secretary, you would be speaking to someone in the call centre.
       
      I worked as part of the early team; some had law degrees others didn’t, but it was comprised entirely of graduates. The training was complex and rigorous, the job demanding and very satisfying. We were paid well for the time.
       
      Then suddenly, I was sitting next to people who were being paid £5k less than me, expected to do the same job. Not only that, but they did not spend their whole time at work on the askBMA line. In fact, they weren’t on the line even every day. They’d be shifted about other projects by the outsourcer. (Cheaper.)
       
      Now when dealing with employment law cases, it’s the norm to have follow-up calls. So you speak to ‘Harold’ on Monday, call back to speak further on your case, and Harold is not available. Because he has been papped onto a smoking cessation line due to call volume. So, either the work is then taken on by a diminishing staff who work only on the askBMA line, or you have to wait until Harold is back…which could be the next week. BMA membership is not cheap.
       
      As for current staff – don’t know if they are dedicated solely to BMA or not, but I bet my bottom dollar they will be paid less than I was 8 years ago. Outsourcers often cut training times to cut costs and are awful at providing on-the-job up-skill training.
       
      Do you think the BMA high-heidjins will be kind enough to take a pay cut, in order to pay the outsourcer more for their staff, rather than hike up your fees? ; )

    79. Cath says:

      That was the case for a lot of call centre workers when I advised people in the CAB, Red Squirrel. They worked for a big outsourced call centre firm, so could be on, for example, Sky packages one day, an energy firm the next etc. 

    80. moroc says:

      @Cath Yup, although some people just work on one project all the time. I think ‘multi-skilling’, as it’s called, can give workers a break from dire lines, but on the whole it’s pretty stressful if any of the jobs are at all involved.
       
      I don’t think people realise just how many times when you think you’re speaking directly to a company rep, you’re talking to a min-wage outsourced advisor. Call SKY and you’re not always speaking to SKY, English students are not always speaking to SLC, Santander, Government helplines, Scottish Power – you name it.
       
      It’s standard practice, so I’m not saying that they’re trying to pull a fast one – but they certainly don’t advertise that they use outsourcers and workers are discouraged from telling callers who their direct employer is.
       
      In house staff are generally given more weeks training and support, are paid more, have work perks and more job security because they are permanent staff with more employment rights.

    81. crisiscult says:

      Well, we should update ‘the finest sight a Scottish person can see is the high road leading to England’ to ‘the finest sight a British person can see is the high road leading somewhere else’. When I graduated in the 90s I moved to an offshore tax haven to get a job cos in my area of study at that time, as now, you either had to be top of your year, or have a family member or close friend in the business. I worry for my kids future. I’m buying my bairn a toy phone for Christmas to get him trained early for his future calling!

    82. Wayfarer says:

      First of all, let’s get rid of the idea that an independent Scotland (which I support) might stop greed and corruption – I see no shortage of either north of the Border.

      What really frightens me about the spread of wage slavery is that history has shown that the end result is almost inevitably mass violence – it’s almost a mathematical formula. People stand for so much, and then the dam breaks.

      As for the doctors – far too many overpaid and underperforming to elicit any sympathy from me.

    83. Grendel says:

      My daughter worked for one of these call centre companies. Zero hour contracts, disguised as being self employed. Seldom paid correctly, on time, or at all. The company would regularly move location, complete fly by night stuff.
      My wife worked for one of the apparently more reputable ones, based in Airdrie. While they were on contracts, there was still the constant threat of sacking, bullying and intimidation as they were given unachievable targets. which were constantly changing. Staff taken on to answer customer orders were then given targets to sell them other products on the phone, changing the job to sales staff when they were assured the job wasn’t sales.
      This industry is awash with rogues, and needs a thorough overhaul. Oh, and unions were banned too…

    84. onanist says:

      I don’t remember the original AskBMA service having folk with law degrees though the people working on it probably had degrees of some kind. Mine was in social sciences, a handy thing in a discussion about employment law as I could discuss anomie with the “poor” doctors. 

      As for my memory of AskBMA, not the best, but that was at the time when GP’s and Consultants had just had their mouths stuffed with gold. I can’t quite forget being a hassled underpaid call centre worker giving advice to someone earning 120k a year. However I also can’t quite forget thinking that if the BMA wanted good legal support for members they could have had a great call centre operation with staff properly trained to do the job of employment advisors. Call centres aren’t the problem, low pay and de-skilling are though.



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