The UNs International Labour Organisation (ILO) said its study of business process outsourcing (BPO) to India, the Philippines, Brazil and Argentina was the first in-depth look at workplaces in the 90-billion-dollar industry.
On the positive side, and unlike previous assumptions, remote work jobs are of a reasonable good quality by local standards, said senior ILO researcher Jon Messenger.
BPO employees in India, which has the worlds biggest share of the outsourcing market, earned nearly double the wages of same-age workers in other sectors of the nations economy, according to the report.
In the Philippines, BPO employees took home 53 percent more than workers of the same age in other industries.
However Messenger said BPO workers suffered from higher-than-normal stress levels, with the industry driven by pressures to cut costs, and this led to a high rate of staff turnover.
BPO workers face heavy workloads backed by performance targets combined with tight rules and procedures, all this enforced via electronic monitoring, Messenger said in a video news conference from the ILOs Geneva headquarters. This type of high-strain work organisation is well-known to produce high levels of job-related stress.
Among the stress factors, staff typically worked the telephones all night to serve sometimes difficult customers in distant time zones.
Some companies also controlled when workers could rest and take toilet breaks.
In the Philippines, which has the worlds second biggest share of the market, staff turnover rates averaged about 30 percent annually, compared with less than 10 percent in other sectors, Messenger said.
In some companies in the four countries studied, turnover could reach 100 percent or more every year, he added.
Work in call centres was generally more stressful, while back office positions, such as in accounting, tended to offer higher quality jobs, the study found.
The ILO called on governments as well as companies to protect the health and safety of BPO staff working at night, and urged call centre operators to redesign work processes so staff enjoyed more autonomy at work.
It described the BPO work force as young, generally well educated and predominantly female except in India.
The ILO did not say how many people worked in the BPO sector. But about 500,000 people work in this sector in the Philippines, according to government data.