A Call Center Agent in Manila

Published by anna Date posted on August 21, 2005

(a true story)

I didn’t want to be a call center agent. I had other plans. I was aiming high.

I fell in love with the wrong guy on my last year in college, and paid dearly for it. My grades plunged; I lost my college scholarship in a name university in Bicol. My small business which could have helped me through also folded up.

I had to leave my place. I went to Manila, applying for on-the-job training in Singapore. I had high hopes. But they were asking for far too many things, including the right clothes (for interview?). Strange: why was a recruiting agency handling OJT interviews?

I decided on another tack, and applied in a call center. It was in its first weeks of operation.

I passed the series of interviews, and went into training. It was tough; the hours were bad. There were no tips on coping with the ungodly hours. I was a zombie almost always. But I passed the two weeks training.

In the two weeks, I found out the motivation was solely money, not the job itself and loyalty to the company. Since trainees and workers worked in the same place, I found negative motivation (cussing, ‘murahan’ in Tagalog) on the floor when no sales were made was the norm.

The terms of engagement were another pain, too low take home pay. New hires would receive only six thousand pesos in take-home pay. Old hires said they receive 7,000 tops because of too many deductions. There is no pay for overtime work. They ask CCAs to report at 12:00 midnight, but they will pay only for work between 2:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. There will be no pay for working on Saturdays. There were other benefits, but the pay picture discouraged me. I opted out.

And I thought call centers were great workplaces. Where were those tales of money to be made in call centers coming from?

I joined the legions of workers struggling through the day (night, in our case). I have to take a cab going to Ortigas because I don’t want to walk from Shaw Boulevard (‘nakakatakot’). In the morning, I had to walk to MRT under the heat of sun.

I tried another call center, this time in Makati. I passed the interviews; again, I had great hopes. The next day, they called me up saying since I worked with x call center I couldn’t get in their call center until after one year as per agreement among call centers. I explained I never started work as an employee in that center and that I never signed a contract to no avail.

Meanwhile, the rent clock was ticking. I was paying P3,500 – one-third of my expected earnings — for a nice enough room. Way too much for a struggling worker. The landlord and the family were kind. The company in the boarding house was great, but the rent was way too much for me. Why can’t the government build dormitories for us call center agents? I heard they do that in China.

I was paying P40-50 per meal, eating in carinderias or subsisting on canned food. I paid P80 for transportation to the call center and back. I had to buy new working clothes. My savings and baon were going quickly.

I tried another call center, and got in quickly. A weekly training allowance of P1750 (P350 per day); but I had to come back for a call simulation after the holy week. Exercising all options, I tried another call center. I was hired the same day, and would report for training after holy week, too. The training allowance was great at P400 per day, except they pay every 15 days, instead of weekly. Bad for me and my escalating needs. Why don’t they have lending schemes for us struggling workers?

I agonized on the choices during the holy week. I took the sure thing. Bad, bad choice, it turned out.

There were 40 trainees in our batch. Fourteen of us were chosen for a campaign which is considered as the best moneymaker account; the others worked on different accounts. By the end of the first week, only 11 (of the 14) of us remained. On our 3rd week, nearing our last week as trainees, we were down to four. Many went down to the stringent requirements. Some, including me, didn’t like the manner of operations

The call center had no system. They shuttled trainees/workers from one project to another with no notice. There was no time for us to build skills, as we got transferred between assignments too fast. The incentive plan was meaningless. The work environment was bad: it was dog-eat-dog; every one tangled with one another, trying to outfox others.

The requirements for the training/job were not clear. Each and every one had passed the screening and initial simulation, meaning our voice and communication skills passed muster. The problem was the succeeding series of simulations conducted by different persons — the manager/s, supervisors and the owner – whoever is on the phone, was unpredictable. Each has different standards. One looks for a friendly and happy voice, another wants a bedroom voice.

I thought the evaluation of performance was haphazard. I also heard the center held people on probation for far too long. I wondered: what kind of call center is this?

I went AWOL (I was so pissed off about the company), looked around, got engaged and passed screening easily. Another call center job landed. One of my friends nets P25,000.00 a month in this call center. I thought I could be earning that much, too.

I will start training/working on June 12. Independence day! Perhaps the beginning of my independence from poverty! Sana nga. I’m getting tired. And I’m only 21 years old!

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