A US UNION called for improved workers’ rights and benefits in the Philippine Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) sector, saying that keeping Philippine compensation low affects work conditions of their US counterparts.

Officials from the Communication Workers of America (CWA) traveled to the Philippines to discuss measures with Philippine authorities to address BPO workers’ concerns. CWA, which counts among its members about 700,000 workers from various industries across North America , said that working conditions in the Philippines became a concern after it was contacted by the BPO Industry Employees Network (BIEN), the local labor union for BPO workers.

“The workers in the Philippines don’t make as much money as workers in the US and the employers can use that to try to drive down wages of workers in the United States. We wanted to get involved here so we can help drive up the wages in the Philippines,” said CWA Vice-President Brenda Roberts.

CWA National Director of Legislation, Politics and International Affairs Shane Larson said that in many cases, BPO workers in the Philippines have the same employers as the members of CWA.

“We are in a global economy. When the corporations can work cross-border on a global scale… We have to work globally as well, as workers. It’s so important for us to build the bonds of solidarity together… because it’s the same employer we have in a lot of cases,” he said.

CWA Assistant Director for Research Nell Geiser called for the elimination of Labor Code loopholes created by Philippine BPOs’ location inside economic zones.

“We believe that BPOs should not be a self regulating industry. Call centers are not self-regulating in the US. They should be under the law just like any other industry is. Our employers and companies depend on these BPOs here to make their profits so they should be law-abiding,” she said.

The Information Technology and Business Process Association of the Philippines (IBPAP) said in May that the sector earned around $24.8 billion in 2018, up between 4% and 5%, but below the industry target of 9% as set out in its medium-term plan.

The Bureau of Local Employment (BLE) has said in its annual JobsFit report that the industry will generate 1.8 million jobs in the next three years.

BIEN Vice-President Sara Prestoza said she also hopes the partnership will open doors for BPO workers to enjoy more rights, such as the right to organize, which is not allowed under many industry contracts.

“About 1.3 million employees are not covered by labor laws… BPO workers don’t realize they have the right to organize. What they know is that when they enter the BPO industry and check the contract, it will say they are not allowed to form any union,” she said. — Gillian M. Cortez