Japan: Health & safety concerns raised as multiple companies require call centre employees to work from office

Author: Reuters, Published on: 5 May 2020

"Call centres expose fault line in Japan's pandemic fight", 4 May 2020

Almost a month after Tokyo declared a state of emergency, dozens of call centre employees for telecom KDDI Corp...still commute into their crowded office, where the fear of coronavirus infection has taken a back seat to data security.

Call centres have exposed one of the fault lines in Japan’s fight against the pandemic, as it takes a less forceful approach than many countries. In the past few weeks, 17 infections were confirmed at a post office call centre in the northern island of Hokkaido and 11 at a Kyoto mail-order business.

...“Dozens of us are still working in a crowded office,” a worker at KDDI Evolva, KDDI’s call centre business, told Reuters. “We could be hit with mass infection any time.”

Until recently, the KDDI Evolva office in Tokyo was packed at peak hours with nearly 80 operators sitting less than a metre apart without partitions, said the worker, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Staff numbers have now been thinned, but not enough to dispel infection concerns, the worker said...

KDDI Evolva said it was taking measures to protect workers, including reducing the number of operators and installing partitions.

A KDDI spokeswoman said call centres were part of social infrastructure and need to remain open. She said it was considering requests from KDDI Evolva.

Reuters spoke to a total of eight call centre operators at multiple companies. All of them described fears about working conditions.

Japan has some 250,000 call centre operators, many of them contractors with less job security than permanent employees.

General Support Union, a labour union, has received more than 100 calls from operators worried about safety in the last month...Some who opted to take leave were told it would hurt their careers...

...A Fuji Xerox spokesman said it made no distinction between contractors and regular employees in allowing telecommuting. He said it was expanding telecommuting...

...Telecoms companies such as KDDI and NTT DoCoMo have felt pressure to keep centres open after the communications ministry requested they scale back in-person operations, an industry source said...

[Also refers to Zurich Insurance Group]

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Related companies: Fuji Xerox (joint venture Fuji Photo Film & Xerox) KDDI NTT Docomo Zurich Insurance Group