A MAJOR employer in the region has responded to taunts that call centres are modern-day sweatshops by launching a health promotion scheme in partnership with the NHS.

Last month, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) claimed that too many call centres were exploiting staff and subjecting them to unhealthy working conditions.

However, Orange has joined forces with the health promotion department at Easington and Sedgefield Primary Primary Care Groups to launch a Health At Work award scheme, at its Peterlee call centre.

The scheme is being piloted at Peterlee - where Orange employs 1,400 people dealing with 160,000 calls a week - but is expected to be extended to other Orange sites nationwide.

It focuses on how lifestyle can affect health and well-being and recognises the role that work plays in an individual's lifestyle.

Healthy eating, regular exercise, sensible drinking and smoking cessation will all be promoted.

The TUC claims some call centre workers suffer acoustic shock.

However, Orange says it considers the well-being and safety of its staff to be of paramount importance.

Neil Miles, head of Orange Peterlee Communications Centre, said: "We recognise our people are our biggest asset. A healthy and motivated workforce is critical to the success of delivering a first-class service, but the scheme is also about being a caring and responsible employer."

The pact will be signed on Thursday.