BUSINESS process outsourcing (BPO) workers are seeking a halt to the practice of placing employees on “floating” status, which they said compromises job security.

The BPO Industry Employees Network (BIEN) said Tuesday that the end of the practice was among their workplace safety and security demands during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

BIEN asked that workers affected by clients pulling out their Philippine operations be redeployed immediately, and sought financial assistance and additional paid leave for employees who cannot come to work.

“Many BPO workers are also subject to the unfair and unlawful practice of floating while hiring (other workers) thus, we continue to demand to stop this. Labor flexibility should not compromise job security of employees,” BIEN President Mylene Cabalona said.

Senator Leila Norma Eulalia Josefa M. de Lima is calling for an inquiry into the practice, saying that labor law and policies need to be re-examined.

BIEN said that thousands of outsourcing employees have been “unjustly displaced from work” during the pandemic.

“Yet we are exempted from government aid and very few companies offer financial support. Many companies are putting workers on No Work, No Pay or on floating status even as they continue to hire new employees,” BIEN said.

Noting that many employees continue to work on-site, the group said that workers should be given hazard pay.

The group is asking for free COVID-19 testing and treatment, as well as immediate contact tracing and quarantine facility availability for workers before operations resume. They said that the government workplace safety guidelines should be strictly implemented, and that near-site accommodations and shuttle services be provided.

BIEN also asked that the industry retrain or upskill workers to prepare them for automation, instead of retrenchment.

The Information Technology and Business Process Association of the Philippines (IBPAP) said that it is scaling down its upskilling pilot program to 1,000 employees this year due to disruptions caused by the pandemic.

BIEN said that companies should provide internet and electricity subsidies for agents working from home, and provide them logistical and equipment support. The group called productivity targets “unfair,” calling for adjustments according to the workers’ internet connection.

“Workers should not be terminated because of internet/power problems,” BIEN said.

BIEN is asking the Labor department to lift its suspension of workplace inspections and labor case hearings.

“Many BPO employees are afraid to speak up because of fear of management retaliation. And even during the pandemic, we have observed several instances wherein employees who dared speak up or take action on workplace issues faced retaliation from management,” Ms. Cabalona said.

Asked to comment, IBPAP said in an e-mail that the industry is facing reduced revenue and lower productivity alongside a significant increase in expenses due to the need to provide shuttle services, lodging, and internet connectivity to continue operations during the quarantine.

“Being one of the only few sectors that continued to persevere during the Community Quarantine, it is imperative for the Philippines and the IT-BPM industry to remain agile amid the changing landscape. We are not out of the woods yet and there remains serious ambiguity ahead of us,” IBPAP said.

“It is important at this point to focus on our key priorities — one of which is job preservation as it impacts the lives of millions of Filipinos who are directly and indirectly employed by the sector.”

IBPAP said that it fully supports efforts to ensure occupational health and safety of employees. The industry group listed health precautions that member companies have implemented, including shuttle services, adherence to health standards prescribed by government, disinfection of offices, and flexible work arrangements such as staggered hours and work-from-home schemes. — Jenina P. Ibañez