Emergency call operator had to call 999 herself over death threat from nuisance caller

An emergency call operator had to dial 999 herself in order to report a death threat, with the call taken by a co-worker sitting a few feet away, a Communications Workers’ Union conference has heard.

Sharon Gill told delegates in Galway on Wednesday that the man on the other end of the line was what was referred to by staff as “a frequent flyer”, a persistent nuisance caller, and he claimed he was going to shoot her.

Receiving such threats was a routine part of the job, said Ms Gill, who previously worked for Emergency Call Answering Services (Ecas) BT.

“I had to ring the guards and say that I was being mistreated in work, that I was being threatened and abused by callers,” she told the conference during a debate on an EU directive the union sees as having the potential to oblige more employers to grant union recognition.

“The reason I rang the guards that day was because I was actually told that I was going to be shot,” she said, adding that other threats included that she would be “stabbed, raped, beaten” and “called any amount of names”.

Ms Gill said there were a number of “frequent flyers”, some of whom might make more than 100 often abusive calls to the 999 service in a particular day.

“We have to take the call,” she said. “There isn’t really a proper procedure there for us to get rid of the call like that because the work is heavily scripted. We don’t have free speech.”

One such “frequent flyer” was jailed earlier this year for making nearly 5,000 calls to the emergency services number, threatening staff and repeatedly causing services to be misdirected to him.

She said a caller had previously told her that “he would cut me from my throat to my belly button; he said he would kill me, rape me and my children and I’m not alone”.

Ms Gill said there are a number of “regulars” and “some of them could phone hundreds of times in one day”. She said “the guards would have a fair idea who some of them are”.

In the case of the report she made, gardaí attended the call centre, took a statement and commenced an investigation.

CWU deputy general secretary Ian McArdle said Ms Gill and her colleagues are at the frontline.

“They’re the conduit for every service in the country. And they deal with the most horrendous calls.”

He said BT recognise unions in the UK but have steadfastly refused to at their two call centres in Ballyshannon and Navan. He said efforts by the union to address the situation at the Workplace Relations Commission had failed because the company had declined to attend, something he said was unacceptable given that the work involved a State contract.

He said the company’s attitude “completely devalues the work and the contribution of these people”.

In a statement, BT Ireland said it “fully recognises an employee’s right” to join a trade union. “For collective bargaining purposes we believe our successful direct model of engagement and consultation is the best channel for this,” it said.

In relation to the recent invite to the WRC, it said that as BT Ireland “does not conduct local bargaining with the Communications Workers Union (CWU) or other trade unions, it was therefore not possible in this circumstance to attend on this specific matter, and we respectfully declined the invitation of the Workplace Relations Commission to attend conciliation”.


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