Floods show ‘sad truth’ about BPOs
Online plea rues ‘business as usual’ despite widespread calamityBy Jaymee T. Gamil, Julie M. Aurelio, Nancy C. Carvajal, Riza T. Olchondra
Philippine Daily Inquirer
As one online litany put it, last week’s massive monsoon floods exposed a “sad truth” about an otherwise booming industry.
Call center agents and other employees in the business process outsourcing (BPO) sector could not hide their dismay over the decision of some companies to keep it “business as usual” despite the calamity.
This sentiment surfaced yesterday in a statement by the BPO Industry Employees’ Network (BIEN), which described itself as a group founded by employees from the country’s top three BPO companies. Its website mainly serves as a forum for BPO employees.
“BPO employees are being unjustly treated by certain … companies who claim that they ‘do not take orders from the government.’ Despite the life-and-death risks, we were still asked to report for work in order to serve our clients abroad,” the statement said.
“Are our lives so cheap that we could easily be put at risk during these times?” the group asked in a piece titled “BPO workers are human beings, too.”
“During the onslaught of massive floods in the country caused by torrential rains, a sad truth about the industry was exposed to the public,” it stressed.
The group, however, commended some companies for allowing employees to skip work and take emergency leaves without having to face sanctions.
“Some employees who were already at work were given the option to stay. They were not forced to work while trapped inside company premises so that they can communicate with their families and attend to emergency situations. They were assured of their welfare and safety while inside their offices, given free food and other needs since travel is no longer possible,” BIEN said.
Reached by the Inquirer on phone, one of the sources of the statement declined to make their identities public. “We might get fired,” one of them said.
Interviews conducted by the paper with some BPO employees echoed similar feelings of resentment.
“We feel bad,” said a female agent working for a company located on Quezon Avenue, Quezon City. “They should have suspended work. Other companies did. Most chose safety rather than the premium pay.”
“There was no cab or tricycle willing to take me through the flooded streets,” said the woman, who lives in Cubao.
She said she along with many others did not make it to work that day, and expressed pity on coworkers who had to take additional load because of their absence.
“The next day, we were allowed to file our absences as vacation leave. But it wasn’t automatic and we had to notify the administration or we will be sanctioned,” she added. “Some employees in another department were really forced to go to work.”
Proof of flood
The company, she said, gave a 30-percent premium pay to those who made it to the office and provided them with food for the day.
Cheska Javier, a BPO employee working in Makati City, said employees in her company who skipped work due to the rains were asked by their supervisors to show photos of their flooded houses and surroundings or get a certification from the local barangay to prove they were indeed affected by the calamity.
Javier also said those who failed to report to work on Tuesday and Wednesday were to be marked absent and would suffer deductions in their leave credits.
Javier said she was not able to go to work on those two days because her house in Pateros was flooded. “But I was forced to report on Thursday for fear of sanctions.”
Rather than get stranded in the flood, call center agent “Mary” decided to spend the night at her company’s sleeping quarters on Tuesday morning after her night shift ended.
But later in the day, despite a government order canceling work in private firms, “my supervisor texted me that it was to be business as usual for us. We could stay in the sleeping quarters to rest and we would be given food.”
“We were each given a two-piece Chickenjoy meal, though it wasn’t enough,” Mary said with a chuckle.
Mary said her call center considers itself an American company. “We are a foreign company which did not originate from the Philippines. Also, the firm will have to pay a fine to our client should there be work stoppage.”
Marco Villa of Cainta, Rizal, recalled that to get to his call center company in Marikina City on Tuesday, he left his house at about 1:30 a.m., two hours prior to the start of his shift. He took a jeepney that had to pass through knee-deep floods.
“I reached the office at 2:40 a.m. when it used to take me only a few minutes to get there,” Villa said.
A Makati resident who works as a trainer at a BPO company in Taguig City said “we were given the option to go to work or to stay at home. Those who stayed at home weren’t deducted any absences in their payroll. Those who went to work were given holiday pay or accrued a one-day vacation leave credit.”
The trainer went to work despite the bad weather. “My area wasn’t flooded, so I just decided to go. I knew a lot of people wouldn’t be able to go to work. More than half were absent. So I went to help the company which badly needed manpower that day.” he said.
Still, he was frank about what he thought of BPOs which refused to cancel work despite the calamity: “They suck. That’s just sad.”
The Business Process Outsourcing Association of the Philippines (BPAP) reiterated over the weekend that its member firms gave premium pay and transportation assistance to workers last week and did not force them to work.
“We asked BPO members of BPAP how they communicated the situation with the employees and none of the communication materials sounded like they forced employees. Almost all provided shuttles to ensure employee safety,” BPAP executive director Genny Inocencio-Marcial said.
According to Marcial, not all BPOs opened shop on Aug. 7, when classes and work in most government offices were suspended due to widespread flooding in Metro Manila and surrounding areas in Luzon.
Marcial said Convergys Corp., for example, gave a “200-percent pay” that day which was more than the “30 percent of basic pay” mandated by law.
The IT-integrated BPO firm Sutherland Global Services treated the day as a holiday, “not even charging it to accrued leaves,” she added.
Marcial explained that BPAP sought a clarification from the government regarding the suspension of work on Aug. 7.
In response, the government said BPOs may ask employees to report for work as long as two conditions are met: the employer can guarantee their safety and premium pay will be given, she said.
In its statement, BIEN stressed that it was “imperative for BPO companies to be guided by standard practices in the industry that ensure the welfare of their employees.”
The group urged BPO employees “to share their thoughts on what transpired in their respective BPOs and recommend the correct practices that the national government and BPO companies should uphold.”
“We hope that the recent calamity will bring attention to the plight of BPO employees and serve as a wake-up call for the national government and the BPO companies to ensure the primacy of peoples’ lives at all times and at any cost,” it said. With Kristine Felisse Mangunay