Senator Imee Marcos Urges DOLE To Act Against Illegal Activities Of BPO Call Centers

For a long time, BPO Call Centers in the Philippines have had a bad name when it comes to conforming to the laws of the Philippine Labor Code. Millions of workers have been badly treated by the call center industry’s main players over the last two to three decades, but the treatment of call center employees throughout the COVID-19 pandemic has become worse than ever before. Now, some call centers are treating their staff like little more than slaves, knowing they can easily get replacements.

The call center industry has long been one of the highest paid industries in the Philippines, with millions of employees choosing to work in call centers rather than follow their chosen courses, for which they spent years in college. With salaries in call centers often being higher, many nurses, IT graduates, and other professionals choose the higher salary over their college career choice.

Anyone in this industry can tell you of the horror stories they have heard or experienced where employees are terminated without just or authorized causes, where salaries are illegally withheld because the company has all the power, and where probationary workers can be fired without even being assessed properly. The call center industry has one of the country’s highest rates of NLRC complaints, with dozens being filed daily in every region.

Call Centers Should Be Investigated

Now, an interesting call from one of the country’s most controversial Senators may begin the process of finally bringing some sort of regulation to this previously unregulated area of employment.

In a recent statement, Senator Imee Marcos has urged the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) to begin an investigation into alleged abuse of workers in call centers. Marcos has alleged that the abuses, which mostly arise from the recent Flexible Work Arrangements brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, include employees not getting their earned salaries for 2-3 months, denial of separation benefits following retrenchment procedures, illegal and unjustified dismissals, and the refusal to reimburse costs of electricity and Wi-Fi for those on Work From Home arrangements.

Senator Imee Marcos (Senator Imee Marcos Official Facebook Page FILE PHOTO MANILA BULLETIN)

According to Senator Marcos, whose office has received innumerable complaints, the complaints were not just coming from workers from the smaller call centers. Many of the complaints have originated from workers of huge multi-national corporations with large call center operations here in the Philippines. And these billion-dollar companies are usually the worst culprits for labor abuses in the call center industry.

Senator Marcos was quoted to have said: “The complaints are not just coming out of smaller call centers but also from top-listed companies that were earning billions in annual income. One even reportedly cut its workforce to less than half.”

Senator Marcos has called on DOLE to closely monitor corporate compliance “since labor abuse during the pandemic may be more widespread than just within the BPO industry.”

Floating Status Being Abused

Senator Marcos, who is also the chair of the Senate Economic Affairs Committee, also made calls for the Labor Advisories allowing floating status during the pandemic to be changed immediately. Employees from many BPO call centers are being placed on floating status for up to six months without pay. According to the Senator, “Six months are too long for employees to be on floating status without pay during an economic crisis. Employees feel that their patience is being pushed to the point that they will just resign, so that their employers can void tenure and need not pay the separation benefits due for every year of service.”

DOLE-Davao-City-Office-Department-of-Labor-and-Employment-carloisles-1

Senator Marcos recommended that a new DOLE advisory should require companies to decide the fate of their employees on floating status within a period of 30 days from their suspension of work, as well as adjusting the time frame in which to bring back those who will be retained to just 30 days from suspension.

“Despite the good intentions to preserve employment while helping businesses in distress, the DOLE advisories were made in haste and lacked thorough review. They failed to take into account the temporary nature of ECQ (enhanced community quarantine), GCQ (general community quarantine), et cetera,” she said.

“There is no more reason to put employees on floating status because we are now under GCQ in Metro Manila, where most call centers are located. The business process outsourcing sector was already allowed to operate at full capacity even under a stricter quarantine level,” Marcos pointed out, citing Resolution 38 of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID).

Fairer Treatment For Call Center Workers

Any new advisory to change Labor Advisories 9 and 17, which allow companies to modify work arrangements and adjust wages, should consider the fact that most call centers are located within the GCQ area of Metro Manila, and should be looking forward into the era of the New Normal.

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Continuing to leave employees on a floating status after the move to MGCQ should not be allowed, and the cut-off for the floating status of employees needs to be changed. If the company can operate at full strength and the employees can return to work (with transport available once MGCQ is announced in Metro Manila), their floating status should automatically end to allow them to return to work.

It is a well-known fact that some call centers, including some of the country’s largest BPO companies, use illegal and immoral tactics to remove employees, with little to no regard for the Labor Laws of the Philippines. These BPO giants often just wait for the case to be filed in the NLRC, and then pay the workers off to drop the case.

It is about time the DOLE and the Government started to regulate these call center companies properly, and put an end to their illegal and illicit activities.

Sources:
Marcos urges DOLE to act on cases of worker abuse, violations of labor laws
Marcos to DOLE: Look into alleged labor violations in call centers
Marcos: DOLE advisories should be changed to resolve floating status of employees due to COVID

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