Workers’ rights in Philippines BPO industry under scrutiny

  • BPO firms reiterate ‘safety first’ for workers as youth leader calls for probe
  • Reports that some companies forced employees to go to work despite natural disaster

THE recent floods that inundated the Philippines have become a defining moment for the outsourcing industry here as a youth political leader called for a congressional inquiry to investigate BPO (business process outsourcing) firms which he said required employees to work despite the heavy rains.
Kabataan party-list Raymond Palatino filed on Aug 14 House Resolution No. 2677, which directs the Congressional Committee on Labor and Employment to investigate BPO companies that required employees to report for work even during calamities, for possible violations of Philippine labor laws.
On Aug 7, Malacañang suspended work in public and private offices. It pointed out, however, that employers in the private sector who requested or allowed employees to work must be able to ensure and be responsible for their employees’ safety and to grant premium pay.
On that same day, the Business Processing Association of the Philippines (BPAP) issued a statement asking its member companies to ensure that their affected employees not risk their safety should they attempt to report for work that day.
Workers’ rights in Philippines BPO industry under scrutinyBut Palatino (pic) said in a statement that “such unfair labor practice endangers and violates the rights of vulnerable employees of this sector”.
“Being the fastest growing component of the services sector employing thousands of Filipinos, we need to investigate the work policies of BPO companies, especially during calamities, and see if these policies go against the human and labor rights of their employees,” Palatino said.
The lawmaker said while the Malacanang circular covered all industries, there were reports that some companies still forced their employees to go to work, some even without additional pay.
“Only through proper investigation can we determine if violations were indeed committed,” Palatino said.
“BPO companies are not exempt from labor laws of the state. However, legislators need to ensure that there are ample safeguards in our labor laws that would ensure the safety of those working in the BPO sector,” he added.
The BPAP, the umbrella organization for the IT-BPO and Global In-House Center (GIC) industry, said its BPO firms implemented business continuity plans (BCPs), several of which included provision of shuttle transportation to employees.
“Employees were alerted of transportation arrangements via sophisticated communication trees using SMS, email, online portals, dedicated support hotlines, and social networks of transportation arrangements. These systems also helped confirm employees were safe and prepared to come to work,” the trade group said in a statement.
The organization cited the case of Sitel Philippines, which allowed its workers to stay in their sites until it was safe for them to go home.
Kristina Beckendorf, managing director of Maersk Global Service Centers, said her company provided an emergency assistance program to their employees, providing various financial support, including emergency loans and an advanced payroll run on Aug 11.
In an initial survey conducted by BPAP, other IT-BPOs reported similar initiatives, including monetary relief for affected employees consisting of interest-free loans, 13th-month pay advances, and outright grants.
According to BPAP CEO Benedict Hernandez, most IT-BPOs continued to deliver services despite the reduced workforce. “Only a handful of IT-BPOs suspended operations for less than 24 hours. Even in those cases, critical service staffing was maintained,” Hernandez said.
In the case of PricewaterhouseCoopers, the company had to close its service center delivery in Ortigas on Aug 7 in consideration of employee turnout due to the bad weather.
“In succeeding days, however, the situation quickly improved. On Aug 8, 50% of the staff was able to go to work while employee attendance on Aug 9 and 10 increased to 65% and 95%, respectively,” BPAP reported.
Employees who worked on Aug 7 also received a 30% premium on basic pay in compliance with a directive from the Department of Labor and Employment.
According to Hernandez, BPAP will conduct a review of the industry’s response to the calamity to strengthen its efforts to prioritize and safeguard the well-being of the industry’s human resources.
“We’ll continue to work closely with the government to ensure employee safety, enhance disaster preparedness, and mitigate service disruption,” he said. “We’re not just thinking about today and tomorrow, we’re thinking about the next 10 years and beyond.” –

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