Guatemalan Call Center Workers Demand Better Conditions

by Vins
Published: Last Updated on

The call center industry in Guatemala stands as a pillar of the nation’s economy but is also the cause of great emotional and mental health stress for the young people who work in it. Generating significant revenue and offering lucrative employment opportunities for bilingual, driven people, these opportunities enhance these workers’ language and communication skills. However, the toll on workers’ well-being is undeniable. An October 2023 report by Jeanelly Vasquez in Quorum, “El Costo Emocional y Mental al Otro Lado de la Línea,” uncovers student Gabriela’s experience in a Guatemala call center. Gabriela explains the harsh realities faced by many Guatemalan call center workers. These include the enduring mental strain of verbal abuse from clients, long shifts with zero to minimal breaks, and shortages of resources that would help the call center workers. 

There has been some call to action. After an outrage of the Guatemala student population not having their voice heard for better labor conditions, protests broke out on October 12, 2023, just after 10 days of national strike. Spirited demands from the people led to a nationwide expression, especially through social media, of the many problems occurring in call centers. This resulted in an inspection from the Guatemala Ministry of Labor. The investigation eventually moved forward, offering workers additional benefits and capacity to do their job in a healthy and sustainable way. 

But what has really changed beyond the realm of the Guatemala Ministry of Labor? While there have been protests for change, corporate and mainstream media continue to overlook these labor issues in Guatemala and Central America. Media has focused on the Guatemalan Presidency of Bernardo Arevalo and how it may affect relations with the United States, while stories of labor demands have been absent. However, in a March 2024 CBS News article, the authors highlighted how the United States has been hesitant in supplying financial resources to help development and overall functioning of Guatemala.

While the US government has supplied tax-payer relief to deter Guatemala citizens from arriving in the US illegally, it has not been enough. As President Arévalo suggests, the US should be an example of a state that continues the fight for adequate labor conditions and societal norms of healthy, sustainable living. The CBS News report does not mention labor conditions or the problem of the call centers, emphasizing instead the problem of corruption in the Guatemalan government.

The term “Call Centre Culture” has emerged to encapsulate the pervasive challenges within the call center industry, ranging from grueling work schedules to limited opportunities for advancement. Recent protests outside TELUS International, one of Guatemala’s largest call center companies, have brought these issues to the surface. Specifically, these protests coincide with a backdrop of national unrest, with widespread strikes and demonstrations demanding political accountability, economic benefits, and systemic change. 

In the context of our changing world, the COVID-19 pandemic has further exposed the shortcomings of the industry, with reports of workers falling ill at their desks due to a lack of accommodation for remote work or flexible scheduling. Activists also stress the importance of structured education to empower workers and to advocate for better conditions. Therefore, as discussions continue, there is growing recognition of the need for comprehensive reforms to address systemic challenges within Guatemala’s Call center industry. Gabriela’s story serves as a poignant reminder of the human cost behind the economic success of call centers and the urgent need for meaningful change. 

Source: Jeanelly Vásquez, “Call Centers: el Costo Emocional y Mental al Otro Lado de la Línea,” Quorum, October 17, 2023. 

Student Researchers: Alonzo Aguilar, Hannah Kauppinen, and Paige Poepping (College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University) 

Faculty Evaluator: Bruce Campbell (College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University)