“Rather than pushing for self-regulation in the BPO industry, what DOLE should do is to promote the rights of BPO workers inside the workplace. Supporting the House Bill 2592 would be a good step forward.”
By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
Kabataan Party-List Rep. Raymond Palatino wants better work conditions for the employees in the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) industry. He said as the BPO industry continues to grow and diversify in the country, “But do do the various problems confronting BPO workers.”
“It has been reported that the BPO industry grew 26 percent to $8.9 billion in 2010. What I find alarming is that this growth does not translate to better working conditions for BPO employees. We are blinded by the money the industry has that we fail to see the increasing suffering of the workers creating that wealth,” Palatino said.
The BPO industry has reportedly 525,000 skilled workers and professionals, more than half of which belong to the youth sector.
In the 14th Congress, he filed the “BPO Workers Welfare & Protection Act,” to help promote the rights of Filipinos who flock to BPO companies for immediate employment. The proposal aimed to to assert the prescribed labor standards stated in Labor Code and institutionalize additional benefits that address specific work-related problems and issues peculiar to the nature of BPO work. Now, in the 15th Congress, he refiled the same (HB 2592) , but with improvements.
“We received hundreds of feedback from BPO managers, call center agents, and even mothers of BPO workers, all expressing concern with the working conditions in many of the companies under this industry,” he said. “Hundreds of thousands of Filipinos are working in the BPO industry. In the absence of genuine national industries, we praise this industry for the apparent and immediate employment opportunities it grants to many of our people. It’s not much to ask that we ensure the rights and welfare of those who have chosen to rely on this so-called ‘sunshine industry.’”
According to Palatino, though it is true that bigger BPO companies offer relatively competitive compensation packages, among other benefits, there are many other smaller BPO companies which do not address the peculiar problems of their employees arising from the very nature of their work.
” One feedback is that BPO companies devise mechanisms to prevent many of their employees from becoming ‘regularized’ despite having been employed as probationary workers or trainees for more than six months. This mechanism effectively divests many BPO workers of the benefits they should have been getting: from the right to money claims and security of tenure, to the right to regular medical check-ups,” he said.
Palatino said that BPO employees also face health and psychological risks.
“These are attendant to the nature of their work. In many BPO companies, employees are not allowed to take restroom breaks for hours on end in order to satisfy quotas or demands. It’s not surprising that many BPO employees complain of urinary tract infections and similar illnesses,” he said.
Palatino also said because of their work shifts, BPO workers are more prone to sleeping disorders and a host of other health problems. More than half of BPO workers work at night.
He cited a study of the International Labor Organization (ILO) stating that those in the BPO industry are in greater risk of contracting sleeping disorders, depression, eye strains, vocal complications and other similar health problems.
According to the same study by the ILO, many BPO workers suffer form “high-strain” working conditions, many of them complain of stress arising from harassment from irate clients, excessive and tedious workloads, performance demands and monotony.
“All this makes it even more imperative for all BPO workers to be afforded regular medical check-ups, regardless of their status as regulars, probationary workers or trainees,” he said.
Health benefits, regular employment status
To address these problems, the Kabataan lawmaker incorporated two new provisions in a new bill for BPO workers: one provision for mandatory regularization of all employees who have worked for at least six months in the company, and another for the standardization of restroom breaks, aside from the standardization of the medical check-up benefits for all workers.
The new provisions are stated in Section 7 . It states that all BPO workers will be considered regular employees after six months of employment as trainee or apprentice, or after completing a maximum probationary training period of six months. It immediately follows that they have the right to self-association, to engage in collective bargaining, and to join, organize, or assist organizations, to collective bargaining and to participate in the deliberation of issues and in the formulation of policies that affect them (Section 8).
Health and medical benefits are also being proposed to be a regular right and medical examination and treatment will remain free of charge not only upon entry in the BPO company or only after ‘”regularization.” Employees, according to the bill, should also be compensated for injuries and medical complications arising from and related to their work.