News : Scotland Yard Call Centre Workers Followed to Toilet
Dec 16, 2014 -- Emergency call handlers at a control centre in Britain are being followed to the toilet - to ensure they do not spend too much time away from their desks, it has been claimed.
Workers handling 999 calls to the Metropolitan Police in London have told bosses that they work to a 'five minute' rule when going to the toilet - and that the time they take is sometimes monitored.
Those found to be taking longer than the 'allotted time' on a regular basis claim they are sometimes followed to the toilet, where supervisors wait outside until the worker comes out - before 'logging' the time taken.
The control rooms, staffed by 2,000 police staff and police officers, are based at three locations in London, in Lambeth, Hendon and Bow.
Workers have complained to the Police Federation - which represents the UK's officers - and the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), which represents 7,500 police staff working for the Met, about the monitored breaks.
Staff at the command centres - collectively called the MetCC - handle 999 calls and 101 calls from the public, taking around 4.5million calls each year.
Given the huge volume of calls, supervisors at the MetCC are cracking down on time staff and officers spend away from their desks.
It is believed the 'monitoring' was put in place after some workers 'took ages' and checked Facebook, Instagram and Twitter on their mobile phones while they were away from their desks.
One worker, who asked not to be named, said: 'Of course some workers take the Mick and go to the loo for ages and come back with funny stories about what pals are up to on social media.
'They are the exception rather than the rule and they are behind this ridiculous monitoring that is going on now.
'There have been some instances when workers have been confronted by supervisors (about how long they have been away from their desk) as soon as they open the loo door.'
John Tully, the chair of the Met Police Federation, said he was aware that toilet breaks were 'an issue' for control room workers.
He told Police magazine this week: 'I know they are very strict on breaks and have heard about the monitoring of toilet breaks.'
He also said that officers at MetCC found it 'extremely difficult' to take holidays and were getting 'completely exhausted'.
He added: 'Officers have said that at times it is virtually impossible to go on leave or have any time off, which can lead to people getting completely exhausted.'
A spokesman for Scotland Yard confirmed that 'time off the operation floor was monitored', but said it was 'unaware' of supervisors following workers to the toilet.
A spokeswoman for the Met's Territorial Policing Unit said it was looking at boosting morale at the MetCC, saying it was organising a 'Christmas jumper day' and 'cake-bake' to raise spirits.
She added: 'Control rooms are an unusual policing environment, as the operating procedures of call centres need to be run in conjunction with emergency response.'
Chief Superintendent Pippa Mills, who took over the Operation Command Unit (OCU) in March this year, said: 'We have done lots of consultation with officers and staff to identify those issues which would improve morale and working conditions.
'As OCU commander of such a large and diverse team, I value the close but "critical friend" relationship I have with the PCS and Federation.'
Government guidelines say workers have the right to one uninterrupted 20 minute rest break during their working day, if they work more than 6 hours a day.
A spokesman from London-based employment law experts Astute HR said although there were 'no specific rules' to say how long people could spend on toilet breaks, employers were obliged to allow people with medical conditions to have adequate time away from their desks.
He added that employers, who often set out their rules for toilet breaks in the terms of their contracts, had to be mindful of data protection and health and safety legislation when monitoring workers' activities.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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Published: Wednesday, December 17, 2014