Management dispute union claims over 999 toilet breaks controversy

Staff have described new toilet break policies policy as insulting

999, responders, toilet breaks, living wage, industrial action, CWU

An emergency call being made on an iPhone mobile phone | Image: Ian West / PA Archive/PA Images

BT Ireland and Conduit Global have released statements this evening disputing claims made by union officials regarding the controversy over toilet breaks at 999 call centres.

The Communication Workers' Union (CWU) is to ballot its members working at the 999 call centre over the company's stance on toilet breaks, while Conduit Global has this evening said there is no toilet-break policy at its centres.

Last week, Conduit issued a new policy restricting toilet breaks to a total of 19 minutes in a 12-hour shift, and only after reporting to management.

The CWU says if they exceed the allowance, they face disciplinary action.

Staff have described the policy as insulting, and are considering industrial action.

“There is no ‘toilet break’ policy at our three centres,” a spokesperson for Conduit Global said this evening, but added that “there is a policy to ensure that none of these vital calls go unanswered.” The policy allows for "a 3% allocation of the day" for these "short, frequent breaks," the company say.

There is no requirement for staff to report to management before and after toilet breaks, they say.

Conduit Global add that breaks required for operators recovering and composing themselves after handling traumatic calls are not included in the 3% of time allotted to breaks, and are subject to a separate policy.

This policy, the company says, “allows employees to have short, frequent breaks away from their visual display screen and stretch their legs as well.”

The Communication Workers’ Union has said its members at the centres requested meetings with their employer, Conduit Global, to discuss a range of issues. The company has tonight said they have met with employees a number of times this week - including engaging with union members.

CWU General-Secretary Steve Fitzpatrick said: "It is not acceptable to the CWU that staff ... providing a vital emergency service to the public have been left with no alternative to achieve basic dignity and respect at their workplace other than to ballot for industrial action".

"Their now infamous toilet policy typifies the petty-minded regime that runs this company. Conduit/BT need to realise that the treatment being meted out to their workers will no longer be tolerated", he added.

Conduit Global say they have met with staff at each of their three centres a number of times this week and will hold additional “employee engagement sessions” in all three of their centres next week.

The company say they are “using this feedback to review our policies and understand what remedies should be put in place to improve and adapt the working environment.

“This shows that we are committed to a positive work environment and an open dialogue with our employees to meet their needs and those of the customers and citizens we serve,” the statement adds.

BT Ireland, who are contracted to deliver the service, have also released a statement this evening and say they are “commissioning an independent contact centre expert to review the work practices, their current application, and to make recommendations.”

The company say that in the event of industrial action they have contingency plans in place to maintain the service.

CWU General-Secretary Steve Fitzpatrick said today that the service is state funded – which BT have this evening sought to clarify by saying that the service is not state-funded, but funded through a “call Handling Fee set by the Telecoms Regulator and levied on communications companies.”