Call centres come into the firing line in Senegal

Sep 12, 2012 12:00 AM

by Salma Bouchafra

"Good morning sir, I'm calling about an offer we would like to make to you."
Assabe S. repeats this sentence on the telephone about a hundred times a day. At the other end of the line are French customers.

The call centre agent lives in Dakar, the Senegalese capital, but his voice works almost eight hours a day in France. A threat now hangs over the jobs of nearly 11,000 employees like Assabe in Senegal, Morocco and Tunisia as a result of plans by the new French government to move some call centres back to France.
Arnaud Montebourg, French minister for industrial renewal, wants to persuade French telecoms companies to relocate their call centre operations, many of which are in the three countries of North and West Africa.

More than 2,500 people work in call centres in Senegal. With a largely French-speaking population, the country's 'teleservices' sector is a magnet for French companies. With private investment estimated at CFA francs 129 bn (EUR 197 mm) in 2009, Senegal's foreign investment authorities have considered call centres one of the most promising areas for creating jobs.
But perhaps not for much longer.

President François Hollande's government has launched a campaign against outsourcing, with the aim of relocating jobs to combat rising unemployment in France. Although the plan is so far no more than a statement of intent, it could jeopardise the future of outsourced operations in Senegal.
According to people working in the sector, 1,000 employees are directly at risk of finding themselves on the streets.

In the call centres, the concern is clear to see. The French minister's announcement had the effect of a cold shower.
"Everybody is worried, everybody who works in the outsourcing of services," says Assane, who works in Dakar's 'Call me' call centre. "They are afraid of losing their jobs."

At another Dakar call centre, TRG, staff are less troubled by the news.
Massata, a TRG supervisor, says: "For the moment, there are no great worries." But the uncertainty is there. "If this decision is put into effect, it will be a hard blow for the employment of young people in Senegal."

The country already suffers extremely high unemployment, estimated at 48 % of the workforce. But if the cost of relocation would be steep for Senegal, call centre operators say it would be even steeper for France. They argue that French partners have gained the most from outsourcing.
Their case is echoed by operators in Morocco. A question-mark hangs over jobs there, too. Relocating Moroccan call centres could mean putting 5,000 people out of work. The sector is more than 80 % dependent on the French market.

But nothing is yet certain. Some predict that Montebourg's plan will never materialise.
The two previous French governments, they say, launched similar initiatives, but they were never put into effect.

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