‘BPO workers are not waterproof’

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Ernesto F. Herrera

Ernesto F. Herrera

This is what Party-list Rep. Raymond Palatino of Kabataan said when he filed House Resolution 2677 seeking a congressional investigation in aid of legislation for possible violation of Philippine labor laws over reports that business-process outsourcing (BPO) companies “forced” their employees to report to work despite the heavy floods in Metro Manila on August 7.

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The resolution directs the House of Representatives’ Committee on Labor and Employment to investigate BPO companies that required their employees to work during monsoon rains and floods.

On August 6 the rain poured almost nonstop in most parts of Luzon, flooding various cities and major thoroughfares. The following day, President Aquino issued Memorandum Circular 33-A, suspending work in all offices in the private sector in Metro Manila and nine other provinces in Luzon.

Despite inclement weather conditions and Mr. Aquino’s memorandum, however, Palatino said some BPO companies reportedly sent messages to their employees and required them to report to work, allegedly on the basis that BPO companies are not required to follow directives from the government. Some BPO companies even allegedly forced their employees to go to work without additional pay.

In his resolution, Palatino said that “BPO companies are not exempt from the laws and territorial jurisdiction of the State, particularly laws related to labor, public health and safety.”

I completely agree.

Amid heavy monsoon rains that battered Metro Manila in August last year, Malacañang already made it clear that call-center agents in the BPO sector cannot be made to go to work.

“If your employer insists that you go to work, they must be able: (1) to guarantee your safety and (2) pay extra for your attendance,” Abigail Valte, Palace deputy spokesman, said in a statement.

I understand the nature of the BPO business. There are critical services that need to continue operations whatever happens here, especially since they take calls from countries like the United States. Whatever calamity is happening here is not happening there. Also, call centers by their very nature are 24-7 operations.

But call centers are not exempted from Philippine labor laws and the directives coming from the President. And just like any industry, in order to keep its high growth potential, local BPOs must take care of their people first. The security and safety of people should be more important than potential revenues losses or stalled operations.

Also, those who report to work during work suspensions should be entitled to overtime or extra pay.

I haven’t kept track of what bills have been filed so far in the 16th Congress but there were a number of archived bills last Congress that were intended to better protect the BPO workforce. These bills never got out of the committee level during the last Congress and these should be re-filed and tackled as priority measures.

Legislators should study how our laws can adapt to the BPO industry and its unique work environment. Amendments to the Labor Code or separate laws must be crafted to protect the rights of BPO workers.

The government must crack the whip on erring BPO companies and eliminate unfair labor practices that violate the rights and endangers the health of BPO workers.

The Labor department must investigate the work policies of BPO companies to see if these policies comply with labor laws and violate the rights of workers.

The BPO industry may be earning billions of dollars for the country, it may be one of the major drivers of our economic growth and one of our top employers, but BPO employers should not be above the law.

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1 Comment

  1. I agree with Rep. Raymond Palatino. I am a call center agent and the Philippine Labor Law should be amended so that employees of the BPO industry will have equal rights under it. A lot of us complain about unannounced mandatory overtime, not being permitted to go to the restroom even if we really have to, nonpayment of holiday pay and a lot more violations. Rep Palatino should have a dialogue with BPO employees to hear their complains and maybe help employees be protected. Thanks for your time.