By RITCHE T. SALGADO
CEBU CITY — With the continuing growth of the Business Process Outsourcing sector, a partylist lawmaker expressed the urgency for government to look after the welfare of the sector’s workers.
“We should be happy that Cebu has improved its ranking from 9th to 8th among emerged business process outsourcing destinations,” Bayan Muna Representative Teddy Casiño told Bulatlat.com, responding to a recent report released by Tholons, a global full-services strategic and advisory firm for global outsourcing and research.
“This should signal government to train its sights on looking after the welfare of our workers in the BPO sector,” he added.
Casiño who is running for Senator under the progressive Makabayan Party authored House Bill 6073 or the BPO Workers Health and Safety Bill.
He said that because of the irregular shift schedules of BPO workers, they are highly at risk to both physical and psychological conditions.
This was confirmed in a study made by church-based Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education and Research (EILER) which found that occupational health risks among BPO workers are “very serious and life-threatening.” Among the health concerns cited in the study are sleeping problems, over-all fatigue, headaches, chest and back pains, voice problems, and mental stress.
Casiño explained that the measure he proposed before the 15th Congress requires for the establishment of a health standard compliant with the recommendation of the International Labor Organization and would meet the needs especially for graveyard shift workers.
It would also require companies to have an occupational hazard and safety officer to be selected by the workers themselves; a health program compliant to the needs of its workers; a health insurance policy for its workers; and protection for workers whom the companies would hire through independent contractors.
Casiño, however, said that since he filed the bill March of last year, it has not moved from the Committee of Labor and Employment chaired by Rep. Emil Ong of Northern Samar.
“Apparently, the welfare of the workers of the BPO sector is not an urgent concern of the Aquino administration. Ironically, time and again, this administration praises the contributions of the sector to our economy. It seems that the Aquino administration is more concerned with the welfare of the multinational BPO companies rather than its people,” Casiño said.
“We are not hoping that this bill will be given any attention before Congress goes on recess on February 8,” he said.
Meanwhile, research group Ibon Foundation belittles the ranking, saying that it is no more than hype.
“The ranking was done by an investment house, Tholons, and reported by the Cebu Investment and Promotions Center. More than anything, the report is a promotion and hype – one that will attract foreign investments in the BPO,” Rhea Padilla, head for media and communications of Ibon told Bulatlat.com in an email interview.
“The cost of doing business in Cebu is one of the lowest among the major hubs in the Philippines,” Padilla said, contrasting the non-agricultural minimum wage of Cebu to be around P5,800, lower than that in Metro Manila, which is around P8,500.
“Having cheap and young labor force which is paid just one-fifth of what counterparts in North America are making is nothing to be proud of,” she said.
“Attracting BPO investors in Cebu may increase job opportunities, but the issue of low salary and harsh working conditions in the BPO industry remain in question,” she said, citing anti-labor provisions of the new Guidelines on Flexible Work Arrangements issued by the Department of Labor and Employment that encourages BPO companies to implement forced leaves, overtime without pay, shift reduction, rotation, compressed work week, among others.
Padilla believes that the poor over-all performance of the country’s economy has sent government economists on a frenzy looking for a means to improve its image.
“The (BPO) subsector has been played up as a major ‘source of resilience’ for the economy,” she said. “However, despite relatively large increases in employment and investments in recent years, its significance in the context of larger concerns of economic development is less than projected.”
Padilla said that even in the absence of a more detailed decomposition, it is clear that the maximum contribution to the economy that can be attributed to the BPOs is barely two percent of the country’s gross domestic product and some 11 percent of total exports.
She believes that there is a lack of effort on the part of government to integrate the sector into the local economy in order for it to contribute in stimulating or encouraging local production or economic development.
“While the export revenues seem large, there is actually little direct input from domestic sectors,” she said.
The Board of Investments in October 2011 has put total revenues generated by the BPO sector at $11 billion, projecting that it would breach the $25 billion mark by 2016. The sector is expected to generate 1.3 million full time jobs in 2016.