Turkish call center workers of Italian company subjected to 'medieval' working conditions

Call center workers of an Italian company operating in Turkey have said they are subjected to mobbing and inhumane working conditions. The Confederation of Revolutionary Trade Unions of Turkey (DİSK) called the reported conditions “medieval.”

Ferhat Yaşar / DUVAR 

Call center employees of a Turkish company have said that they are subjected to mobbing and abusive working conditions, as the Confederation of Revolutionary Trade Unions of Turkey (DİSK) described the work environment as "medieval." 

Workers in Comdata's call centers in the southeastern province of Mardin and the northern province of Samsun described inhumane treatment they are faced with and noted that their complaints to company officials fell on deaf ears. 

Some of the employees who spoke to Duvar did not want to be named for fear of reprisal from their employer. 

One worker at the call center in Mardin said that she suffered from an asthma attack and lost the use of her left arm as a result of mobbing. According to the worker, employees were prevented from using the bathroom, denied overtime, hindered from meeting their targets by supervisors so as to deny them bonuses and were given extra hours and calls as a form of harassment. 

The employee described one instance where two managers beat a customer representative in a room without surveillance cameras. 

“There are 'feedback' rooms without cameras,” she said, “No one will see you no matter what you do there. In the feedback room, the team leader battered a customer representative. Then, the supervisor came and [also] started beating the customer representative without saying anything.” 

Many of those working at the center found the work through İŞKUR, the Turkish employment agency. The employee in Mardin said that for her first year, while she was still under the İŞKUR contract, the treatment was not as violent. However, the moment her contract was up her supervisors began harassing her. The more the employees complained, the more they were harassed. 

“Team leaders were constantly directing calls to those who made noise, objected, or asked why there were portions missing from their salaries to try and get them to resign,” she said. 

Put on night shift as punishment

This Mardin employee said that because of her complaints, she was increasingly put on night shifts. She would start work at 1 a.m., then work eleven hours until noon the next day. Calls were forwarded to her one after another, without reprise. She has asthma, but could not take her medication because it would make her sleepy in the middle of the night. 

Her team leader also continually forwarded calls of “perverts” and harassers to her in the middle of the night. These callers would say explicit, disturbing things to her. 

The calls got so bad that they began triggering her asthma. She requested to be put on daytime shifts so that she could take her medication, but nothing happened for two weeks. Finally, she was put on daytime shifts but by that point, her asthma had worsened to the point where the medication was insufficient to treat it. 

She was still directed abusive calls during the day. One day, she was on the phone with a customer who was cursing at her and spewing vitriol. Simultaneously, her manager began calling her on a private line. When she didn’t pick up, he began texting her, berating her for not answering. She said she was on a call - he could see this in the system - but he persisted. He told her he would give her “feedback” later and insulted her. With the customer cursing at her and her manager insulting her, she had a severe asthma attack. Both of her arms were paralyzed and she was rushed to the Diyarbakir Research hospital. 

“I had an asthma attack. I couldn’t breathe. Because I couldn't breathe, I panicked and started crying. I went crazy. The customer could hear that I couldn’t breathe and could hear my mother shouting. Both of my arms were paralyzed,” she said.

Emergency medical personnel intervened and saved her, and she regained use of her right arm, but her left arm remained paralyzed. When she was in the hospital, not a single person from the company called and no investigation was launched, despite all Comdata calls being recorded.

“Our quality department listens to all of our calls, but they didn’t even ask me if I was having a seizure. A prosecutor has still not reviewed my petition and my file. I have reports, there are statements, but there is no prosecutor,” she said. 

Three of the employee’s fingers are still entirely paralyzed. When the company doctor told her supervisor that she could not work such hours due to her medical condition, they fired her.

Customers themselves were also abusive

Another woman who worked for Comdata in Samsun experienced similar abuse to the woman in Mardin. She said that the same manager oversaw both the Mardin and Samsun offices, but due to less oversight they used more abusive tactics in Mardin. Regardless, she said she was subjected to mobbing as well. 

“I had a psychological illness due to mobbing. The disease affected my metabolism, and I was in treatment for 2 years. But worse things have happened at the company. Here, they threatened to fire several women for being ‘disgraceful,’” the employee said. 

A man named Cihan Sezer, who resigned after the abuse he was exposed to at Comdata, confirmed these accounts. The customers themselves are abusive, he said, which is then exacerbated by the abuse of supervisors. They pressure employees to take more and more calls, then “mob” them when they don’t. Accounts were kept of employees’ performance and they were denied bonuses for no clear reason.

When the pandemic happened, all of these employees confirmed, the mobbing did not stop. Sezer said that he was forced to keep his computer camera on at all times for supervisors to watch, and the workload intensified. 

“Now that the workplace and home are intertwined, [employees] are called by the company outside of working hours, and they are asked to respond by mail or in the WhatsApp group,” Sezer said, “Some were even forced into meetings outside of working hours. In short, there is even more victimization now than in our former working environment.”

The employee in Mardin said that when they began working from home, she was forced to sign an agreement that said she would not ask the company for compensation for her electricity or internet. 

Union works to improve conditions

Levent Dokuyucu, chairman of the DİSK Communication Workers’ Union, said that he is looking into the matter and the union considers it to be of the highest importance. A month and a half ago, call center employees were transferred to the communication union, and now, he says, they are working to unveil and better working conditions. 

“Mobbing has transformed into physical violence in these companies,” Dokuyucu said, “Our goal is to organize in all call centers. We have also engaged with collective bargaining at Comdata. We haven’t had any trouble with the company so far, but we expect to have trouble when we negotiate the collective agreement. They will try to prevent it.”

Dokuyucu says the union will directly address the violence and abuse in the bargaining process and hope to have the agreement finalized by the end of November.

Comdata refused to comment on this story and told Duvar they “reserved their right to take legal action.”