Friday, June 13, 2014

ICCAW: 8 Steps to Protect BPO Workers' Rights

Protection of Workers’ Jobs and Rights, and Promotion of Just Labor Practices
in the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) Industry

The Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) business is one of the top industries in the country with the Philippines now positioned as the number one call center destination. However, just labor practices have not been widely practiced or observed, especially for small and medium scale enterprises and even the mid-size ones. The Philippines has no strict regulation when it comes to putting up a call center business, no government agency that acts for quick intervention and there are not enough programs designed to protect call center workers’ interests.

Thus we, the Inter-Call Center Association of Workers (ICCAW), advocates for strict regulation to protect workers in the BPO industry. Specifically we call for an end to business tactics used by some employers meant to avoid liabilities to their workers such as illegally closing down and forming another company with the same operations and accounts.

We will cite some violations of labor standards and unjust labor practices happening in the BPO industry based on our first hand experiences. Unfortunately there may be other illegal practices still occurring which we just have not come across.

1.      Sudden closure of operations without prior notice
2.      Creating a new company with the same operations and accounts/campaigns after the closure of old business
3.      Avoiding liabilities and responsibilities to workers after the closure of the business
4.      Non-regular employees are not covered with hospitalization and insurance
5.      Employees are forced to go overtime
6.      Sudden cancellation of planned leaves
7.      Paying minimal allowances (P150 for example) during the training period
8.      Salary often delayed with no sound reasons
9.      Overtime is not paid
10.   Terminating employees without due process

Advocacy for Change

To protect workers’ interests there should be standardization of practices and strict regulation of employers who will be putting up business-related BPO operations. This will avoid fly-by-night operations which are ill prepared to run a business.

Priority Demands for Standardization in the BPO Industry

1.      A bond should be imposed to pre-qualify a call center operation and should be a requirement in putting up such a business. The bond will be used in case of sudden closure and should amount to one (1) month basic salary of the total number of employees hired. This is highly applicable for outbound operation BPO companies.

2.      Non-regular employees should be covered with basic hospitalization and insurance since they are prone to sicknesses as they work most the graveyard shift.

3.      Above minimum salary standards should be set given the dollar earning nature of the BPO industry. We demand a basic wage of P12,000, and a transportation and meal allowance of P2,500. This proposal is lower compared to those offered by the existing top call center companies in Cebu. This is exclusive of health benefits and insurance. Establishing minimum wage and allowances in the BPO industry will advance workers’ rights and interests.

4.      Regular labor inspection of BPO/call center sites in accordance with the Department of Labor and Employment’s (DOLE) Labor Standards Enforcement Framework, and in coordination with ICCAW representatives. DOLE should train and deputize ICCAW representatives as labor inspectors to augment the meager number of government inspectors.

5.      Immediate activation of DOLE quick reaction team in response to sudden and illegal closures of BPO companies. This should be done in coordination with ICCAW representatives.

6.      Yearly tax break equivalent to two (2) months.  Exemption from income taxes of wages below P25,000, which is the cost of living in Cebu.

7.      Election of employee representatives within BPO companies with the mandate to negotiate with management on workplace grievances and complaints of workers.

8.      Regularize employees after maximum probationary period of six (6) months. Making employees contractual on basis of volatile accounts is a disguised form of employment. Moreover the Labor Code does not recognize account-based employees. Call center workers are also not project-based employees since such is time-bound depending on project duration. Regular call center workers with closed accounts can and should be redeployed to new accounts unless terminated with separation pay.

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