CEBU, Philippines – Positioning himself as the candidate who will address the concerns of the burgeoning business process outsourcing industry, Liberal Party standard-bearer Manuel Roxas II met with BPO employees to hear them out on Wednesday, August 12.
Over breakfast at the Cebu IT Park, the hub of the BPO industry in Cebu, managers and newbies told Roxas these concerns:
- criminals targeting BPO workers
- Internet connectivity in the country
- cost of living in or near highly-urbanized tech hubs
- security of tenure for workers whose contracts sometimes last for only a few months
During the hour-long meet, Roxas unveiled plans of organizing a “caravan” of government offices so BPO workers can apply for work-related requirements while not missing their shifts.
A “dry run” of the “one-stop shop” – which will bring representatives from the National Bureau of Investigation, PhilHealth, and the Social Security System (SSS) – will be rolled out in Cebu City in the coming weeks.
Here’s what Roxas had to say about the issues raised by BPO employees, based on a chance interview with reporters after their meeting:
One BPO manager told Roxas that the night before their meet, 11 of his employees fell victim to criminals on their way home from work.
“Doon sa security, of course napakahalaga na ilayo natin sa kapahamakan ang ating BPO, call center agents, at gayun din para sa mga karaniwang mamamayan. Nakikilala sila, nai-spot-an sila nitong mga masasama ang loob dahil nga iba ang bihis, at tsaka maganda ang trabaho so talagang iba ‘yung tayo nila…so nagiging biktima sila. So paiigtingin ang police presence dito sa mga dinadaanan ng mga kababayan natin.”
(It’s important to ensure the safety of BPO, call center agents, and every other Filipino. BPO workers are vulnerable because criminals target them because they might dress different and because of their jobs, they exude a different aura, so they fall victim. We’ll make sure to increase police presence along the routes used by the workforce.)
Roxas noted that security in IT parks or business hubs themselves are fine, but it’s the routes to and from the office that are problematic.
Roxas said many BPO workers are unable to process government papers because of the nature of their work – their work days end just as government officers begin theirs. Citing industry figures, Roxas says the BPO industry employs around 1.3 million people in the Philippines.
“Simula noong 2000, ‘yung mga problemang ganito nakikita natin dahil napakarami na nga ng mga call center agents, mga BPO, mga IT…. Their hours don’t match government work hours – PhilHealth, SSS, NBI. Tulog sila, nagpapahinga sila habang bukas ang mga opisina ng gobyerno. Gagamitin natin ang Cebu bilang test kung saan magkakaroon ng caravan ng mga serbisyong ito, dadalhin natin sa IT parks kung saan ‘yung mga call center agents ay makakarehistro.”
(Since 2000, it’s been a problem because most employees in the BPO, IT industries’ work hours don’t match that of the government. They’re asleep, they’re resting while these government offices are open. We’ll use Cebu as a test for this caravan, we’ll bring them to the IT parks so call center agents can register from there.)
SECURITY OF TENURE
The contracts of some workers in the BPO industry only run for months, depending on the project signed on by the company. As a result, BPO workers told Roxas, you see young professionals hoping from one company to another.
The interior secretary, who was also once trade and industry chief, admitted this was a tricky problem.
“’Yung security of tenure, talagang isang concern ‘yan ng lahat ng mga trabahador, pero itong nature kasi ng call center business, this works by contract. Let’s say isang call center magkakaroon ng contract ng 3 months, 6 months…’yun lang ang trabaho na maibibigay nila. Kung babaguhin natin masyado ang terms of engagement, hindi pupunta dito ang trabaho…. So ‘yun ang binabalanse natin, na kung talagang matagalan naman ang empleyo ng isang tao ay dapat may security of tenure sila. Pero kung kontrata man lang dahil contractual ‘yung binigay ng principal, eh di kailangan na tumugma naman tayo dahil mahalaga na magkatrabaho sila.”
(That’s really a concern by the BPO workers, but you have to understand that call center business operates on contracts. Let’s say a call center gets a contract of 3 months or 6 months, then that’s the only kind of job they can offer. If we change the terms of engagement too much, we run the risk of losing jobs. We’re trying to balance that…. When an employee has been then for a while, it’s only right he or she has security of tenure. But if the principal only offers a short-term contract, we have to match that because what’s important is that they have jobs.)
Another issue raised was the notoriously slow Internet connection in the Philippines. Roxas, who was once transportation and communications secretary, acknowledged this problem himself. He noted how some Internet service providers are always short of their promised Internet speeds.
“Ito ay parating problema dahil nakapag-connect ka ng fiber sa isang area at naging matagumpay nga, lumago ang BPO industry sa isang area, napuno kaagad iyan, so kailangan mag-connect ng panibagong mga lugar dito sa redundant and stable international access na malalaki ‘yung mga tinatawag na pipe, mga terrabyte ang kailangan na dumaloy diyan. Napakahalaga ang tulong na maibibigay ng gobyerno dito…’yung tulong na maibibigay ay right of way, dahil huhukayin nila ‘yan eh, hindi madaling gawin ito, pero gayunpaman kung mag-locate nga tayo dito ng mga IT parks, not necessarily sa sentro pero kahit sa periphery…mas madaling gawin ito.”
(It’s been a perennial problem because once you connect an area and the BPO industry there booms, the network’s capacity is hit right away so you need new connections. You’ll need there pipes that have terrabytes running through them. The important thing the government can contribute is the right of way because you’ll need to excavate. This won’t be easy but one you locate potential IT parks, not necessarily in the center of cities but even in the peripheries, this will be easy.)
The interior secretary’s visit to Cebu comes almost two weeks after Aquino’s long-awaited endorsement of his presidential bid and Roxas’ “acceptance” of the challenge to continue the current administration’s reforms. – Rappler.com
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