Santiago refiles Magna Carta for call center workers bill

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Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago has again filed a bill seeking a Magna Carta for Call Center Workers.

The bill seeks to enforce the rights of call center workers to organize unions and to have safe and healthy working environments given the long hours they spend at their work stations.

Santiago had expressed alarm over reports that business process outsourcing (BPO) firms discouraged labor organizations when the nature of call center work made the protection of trade unions quite necessary.

“Several surveys and research in Europe showed that unions do matter in the call center industry.  It is in the very nature of call center work, where the protection of trade unions is very much called for,” Santiago said in her explanatory note.

“The Communication Workers Union, for example, is the biggest union for the telecom industry in the United Kingdom with 215,000 members.  The CWU ‘exists to protect, advance and serve the interests of its members throughout the communication industry,’” she added.

Santiago’s bill, originally filed in the 15th Congress, also taps the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) to put up BPO Help Desks in their national and regional offices.

Santiago said these help desks would advise prospective and active BPO employees on the terms and conditions in their contract, and inform them about filing complaints for violations of the proposed Magna Carta.

“The right to form labor unions in enshrined in the Constitution, and the country is party to various International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions and treaties,” Santiago said.

The Philippines cannot truly boast about its BPO industry to the world if it does not comply with the most basic of international labor standards, she added.

The senator expressed concern over health and occupational safety issues in BPO centers.

Santiago cited findings of the ILO that showed the perils of working in call centers, particularly during the night shift.

The study found that 42.6 percent of BPO employees in the Philippines worked the night shift. About 47.7 percent of Filipino BPO workers surveyed for the study suffered from insomnia, while 54 percent suffered from fatigue.

Santiago said they were also found to have other health problems—eye strain, neck, shoulder and back pains, and voice problems.

The DOLE and Department of Health should pay special attention to BPO employees who are vulnerable to health and safety hazards because of the peculiar nature of their work and schedule. “Prolonged computer use and night shift schedules are legitimate health and safety concerns,” Santiago said.

On the other hand, Santiago said the bill would promote a low attrition rate for the industry and attract skilled workers to strengthen the local BPO industry, which is expected to generate up to $16 billion and provide 720,000 jobs this year.

“Touted as a sunshine industry, the country’s BPO industry has the distinction of both contributing to economic growth and sustaining it through the services it offers. It makes perfect sense that Congress should protect this industry,” Santiago said.

Santiago said Philippine BPO revenues had risen steadily since 2009. Last year alone, BPO companies were said to have raked in $13.5 billion in revenue—22 percent higher than 2011.

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