What if your employer requires you to start recording calls promptly at 09:00, but in order to do so you first have to log in to ten different systems and read your mail? Who should then pay for this ‘preparation time’? The Court of Appeal in The Hague has provided clarity in a case that has been brought against a call center: the employer.
In this case it concerns the company Teleperformance in Zoetermeer. An employee of this call center went to court. He was supposed to be there earlier to log in, but was not reimbursed for his preparation time. Now the French multinational still has to pay for those ten minutes of work that have not been paid for years and that costs the call center 2900 euros.
With some 3600 Dutch employees, the amount that still has to be paid to employees can run into the millions.
This example is not an isolated one, says Evert Verhulp, professor of employment law at the University of Amsterdam. He is researching ‘wage theft’, an umbrella term for wrongly paying too little salary.
This occurs in all sorts of ways. “We regularly see cases before the courts about, for example, vacation days or salary scale, where there is discussion at which level people should enter a scale,” says Verhulp. He says that with the Zoetermeer case it is “quite obvious” that payment must be made.
Exactly how often these kinds of situations occur is difficult to say and difficult to investigate, says Verhulp. “You then have to do a representative sample, which requires a lot of data from people. But it will happen in every sector.”
Elly Heemskerk, FNV call center director, is delighted with the verdict. It is the second time in a short time that a member of the union has been able to enforce arrears through the courts at Teleperformance, which has more than 420,000 employees worldwide and made a profit of 645 million euros last year. Earlier this year, a court ordered the company to pay overdue bonuses that had been scrapped.
The statement about the preparation time has caused quite a stir, Heemskerk notes. She sees that more employees are now coming up with their own story about time spent at work, but not paid. “Think, for example, of people who have to change clothes or have to start up a system. Changing clothes is also part of working time.”
Verhulp does have advice for people who suspect that they may be receiving too little. “Have your payslip checked once in a while by someone from the union or from your legal assistance insurance.” The professor emphasizes that by no means all employers deliberately pay too little: some collective agreements are complex.
Nevertheless, the union does see the collective labor agreement as the right means to arrange this, says Heemskerk. “We will take this decision of the court into account in the upcoming collective bargaining negotiations. We would rather arrange a collective compensation than all of us start lawsuits.” But people who report similar stories to the union can count on support, the union says.
The collective labor agreement in the call center sector expires at the end of this year. So there must be a new agreement before 1 January.