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BPO sector says it’s enforcing health rules among workers

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THE OUTSOURCING industry on Tuesday denied allegations of lax protocols at the workplace amid a coronavirus pandemic.

“Our industry is far from being business as usual,” Rey C. Untal, president and chief executive officer of the Information Technology and Business Process Association of the Philippines (IBPAP), told a virtual congressional hearing on Tuesday.

He said BPO companies were taking “extraordinary measures” to balance workers’ welfare and their ability to operate. “There is no advantage on the part of employers to disregard the welfare of employees because ultimately the business will suffer.”

Mr. Untal said they have removed biometric scanners, closed recreational facilities and restricted movement in common areas while observing social distancing to prevent a virus spread.

Companies also immediately report any positive tests to local governments, he said.

Work-from-home setups in the Philippines have recently been put in the spotlight after some companies including those in the outsourcing sector were accused of unfair labor practices such as cutting wages due to slow Internet connection of their workers.

Lawmakers in both houses of Congress have sought a probe of employers who were also shifting the costs of electricity and connectivity to their employees by failing to provide them with allowances and subsidies.

Four of five work-from-home employees have been paying for their Internet, Party-List Rep. Arlene D. Brosas said this month, citing a poll by the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) Industry Employees Network.

Meanwhile, an inter-agency task force made up of Cabinet secretaries has ordered the Labor and Trade departments to ensure compliance with government health measures.

“Monitoring has already started in many industries, including the BPOs,” Labor Assistant Secretary Ma. Teresita S. Cucueco told congressmen.

The outsourcing sector is the second-largest net foreign exchange earner after overseas Filipino workers and the fastest growing industry in the Philippines.

The Labor department earlier said it would review an advisory it issued allowing companies to adopt alternative work arrangements during the lockdown meant to contain the pandemic.

Senator Imee R. Marcos had said some BPO workers were placed in a floating status for six months after the agency issued an advisory on May 16 allowing companies to retain workers for six months. Workers can’t claim separation and other benefits during the period, she said.

The advisory allowed employers to adopt a work-from-home or telecommuting arrangement even after the lockdown in many parts of the country was eased.

Employers were also allowed to adjust the wages and benefits for six months.

Employees working from home face challenges such as lack of logistical assistance such as equipment delivery and longer working hours to compensate for low productivity.

The BPO sector, which employs about 1.3 million Filipinos, was among the industries forced to adopt work-from-home arrangements, according to IBPAP.

Ms. Marcos sought the Senate probe after receiving complaints that some companies had been withholding wages.

As much as 15% of the country’s workers or about four million were expected to lose their jobs. It would have been bigger without the resurgence of workers in the BPO and construction industries, Labor Secretary Silvestre S. Bello III earlier told senators. — Patricia S. Gajitos





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