House to probe BPO companies for unjust treatment of workers

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A LAWMAKER has filed a resolution seeking to investigate companies including those in the outsourcing sector for unfair labor practices such as cutting wages due to slow Internet connection of workers who work from home amid a coronavirus pandemic.

“At first look, the work from home setup may seem to be the logical work arrangement due to health and safety restrictions,” Gabriela Party-List Rep. Arlene D. Brosas said in a statement on Wednesday.

But some employers were shifting the costs of electricity and connectivity to their employees by failing to provide them with allowances and subsidies, she added.

Four of five work from home employees have been paying for their Internet, Ms. Brosas said, citing a poll by the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) Industry Employees Network.

Two of five people who work from home also experienced wage cuts because their connections were not fast enough, according to the poll.


The Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) on Wednesday said it would review an advisory it issued allowing companies to adopt alternative work arrangements during the lockdown meant to contain the pandemic. BusinessWorld tried to reach the IT and Business Process Association of the Philippines (IBPAP) for comments through its external public relations team but was unsuccessful.

Senator Imee R. Marcos said some business process outsourcing (BPO) workers have been placed in a floating status for six months after the agency issued Labor Advisory 17 on May 16.

“The advisory provided that workers would be retained for six months and they can’t claim separation and other benefits,” she said during a hearing of the labor committee.

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. “I don’t know how these BPOs are interpreting our advisories but we will never allow a situation where a worker cannot avail himself of a separation pay because that is mandated by law,” Labor Secretary Silvestre H. Bello III told the hearing.

“We can review this advisory on that issue.”

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.”

“What’s worrying is workers shoulder expenses that should otherwise be borne by companies even if they work from home,” Ms. Brosas said in Filipino. “Workers now have less money for food and healthcare.”

She said decent work standards, protection of labor rights and sustainable jobs should be “at the heart” of the country’s resiliency program in the fight against COVID-19.

“The Labor department should seriously look into these reports and come up with a more effective monitoring guidelines for work from home arrangements to prevent unfair labor practices, especially in the BPO industry,” Ms. Brosas said.

The Information Technology Business Process Management Industry, which employs about 1.3 million Filipinos, is among the industries forced to adopt work from home arrangements, according to the IT and Business Process Association of the Philippines (IBPAP).

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

Senator Emmanuel Joel V. Villanueva said there should be a grievance committee for workers.

“In case an employee is aggrieved where can he or she go for redress?” he asked.

During the hearing, Mr. Bello said the BPO sector and infrastructure industry was expected to offset job losses in other sectors for the rest of the year.

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, he said. — Genshen L. Espedido and Charmaine A. Tadalan