Groups urge gov’t, companies to prioritize BPO workers’ welfare amid pandemic

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MANILA, Philippines – Days into the enhanced community quarantine triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, various groups called on the government and on Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) companies to guarantee the safety and income of workers.

The government, in its bid to arrest the spread of the coronavirus, imposed a month-long lockdown in the entire island of Luzon, implementing strict quarantine for all households and suspending public transportation.

The measure strictly limits the movement of at least 57 million people across Luzon. Despite the situation, BPO companies remain operational, so long as workforce arrangements are skeletal, social distancing measures are observed, and temporary accommodations are available.

This poses challenges to workers, however, especially with the suspension of public transportation, as they are forced to find ways to head to their offices and show up to work to ensure their income. (READ: LIST: Who are allowed out during Luzon lockdown?)

This did not sit well with several groups, prompting them to launch online petitions urging companies and the government to prioritize the rights and welfare of BPO workers by letting them work from home in light of threats posed by the coronavirus.

“Amid this extraordinary time, we call on the Philippine government and BPO companies to put employees’ health and well-being a top priority. Let BPO workers stay at home,” the Business Process Outsourcing Industry Employees Network (BIEN) expressed in its change.org petition.

As of today, the online petition already has more than 4,000 signatures.

According to BIEN, while arrangements have been set up by a few companies, some workers are forced to consume their leave credits while some “are still lost in the dark” after their companies ceased operations without guaranteeing employees’ incomes.

No work, no pay

Naming the companies that refuse to close their offices and let their employees work from home, the University of the Philippines’ Alyansa ng mga Mag-aaral para sa Panlipunang Katwiran at Kaunlaran (UP Alyansa) was among those that promoted an online petition asking for flexible working arrangements for workers.

 

According to the group, the companies named in the petition “demand that people come into the office in order to be paid, implementing strict ‘No Work, No Pay’ policies.”

As of writing, the petition has gotten at least 10,893 signatures.

“UP Alyansa strongly disagrees with these policies and calls on these call centers to prioritize the welfare of their employees. The Philippines is one of the main locations for worldwide call-centers employing thousands of our fellow Filipinos. In this public health crisis, survival also entails food and job security,” the alliance said.

In an interview with Rappler, BIEN President Mylene Cabalona said it is high time for the government and private companies to recognize workers as “economic drivers” by providing them with social protection.

Cabalona shared that, in a survey conducted by their group, some BPO companies were not prepared as regards the arrangements set by the government.

Meron pa ring mga work from home pero hindi sila prepared. May mga nag-provide ng accommodation, pero apparently, sa lounges nila sa office nag-stay ang mga empleyado at dahil sa dami, hindi na ma-accommodate, ” she said.

(There are work-from-home arrangements but companies are not prepared. There are companies providing accommodation but apparently, employees are staying at the office’s lounges and due to the number of workers, they can no longer accommodate them.)

According to BIEN, companies should suspend on-site work and set-up efficient work-from-home arrangements while guaranteeing income and paid time off for affected employees without reducing their leave credits.

Workers’ demands during quarantine

Amid the plight of workers during the lockdown, labor group Kilusang Mayo Uno laid out 4 demands:guaranteed income, free mass testing and treatment, food supply, [upholding] people's rights and welfare.  

The group said daily wage earners should be given a paid quarantine leave. Meanwhile, workers who still need to go to their offices should be provided with enough protection, such as personal protective equipment. Additionally, there should be disinfection of workplaces and free testing, along with safe and regular means of transportation.

According to BIEN, the government and companies should provide socio-economic support for BPO workers to mitigate the adverse economic impacts of the pandemic outbreak.

“Now more than ever, the government must act to protect the rights and livelihood of workers. Companies are summoned to practice due diligence to prevent the spread of COVID 19 and contribute in alleviating its impact on the livelihood of workers and our families,” the group said. – Rappler.com