BPO workers consider quitting rather than returning on-site

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 24) – A government blanket order ending hybrid work schemes for those in the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry could force employees to quit their jobs, the Alliance of Call Center Workers (ACW) warned on Thursday.

The group said a fifth of its 1,400 members either want to resign or contemplate leaving the BPO sector to find work elsewhere.

Based on ACW's data, over one million BPO workers currently have work-from-home arrangements with their employers.

"It's not really mass resign as in protesta (protest)," ACW co-convenor Emman David told a virtual press briefing.

"Hindi magiging madali sa kanila yung transition to work on site," David said.

[Translation: Transition to work on site won't be easy for them.]

Many of their members have returned to their home towns outside Metro Manila since the lockdown began in 2020 - given the ease of working off-site - and moving back will be costly, he added.

Ten-year call center veteran Lara Melencio said it's possible to have the best of both worlds – watching her infant grow while still giving her job 100% – all within the safety of her home.

"During our breaks, we can multitask. So kahit 15-minute break lang yan, yung konting (even if it's a 15-minute break, the limited) time you can spend with your baby, okay siya (it's ok)," she added.

Working from home also means less crowded roads and greater productivity.

"Pag natraffic ako, 30 minutes agad yan (If I'm stuck in traffic, it will cost me 30 minutes). That will take one hour of my life [each working day]," Melencio said.

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez – who heads the board that reviews tax perks for economic zones to which BPO companies belong – clarified that BPO employers have the prerogative to continue work-from-home setups. But the Finance chief pointed out that doing so will mean these BPO locators will lose their tax incentives.

The government's argument is that on-site work could have a ripple effect on the economy as BPOs renew lease contracts with the property sector, and peripheral businesses like restaurants, cafes, and flats could benefit from that.

For labor group Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino (BMP) and party-list groups Akbayan and Sanlakas, the Finance department has overstepped its bounds.

"If it ain't broke, why fix it?" said lawyer Luke Espiritu, president of BMP.

"Itong ginagawa ni Secretary Dominguez na i-wiwithhold niya ang incentives kapag hindi nag-return to work, ay walang ibang made-describe ito kung di isang blackmail. And I even doubt it's for the benefit of the MSMEs," Espiritu argued.

[Translation: This move by Secretary Dominguez to withhold incentives if you don't return on-site, it's nothing but blackmail.]

ACW's David added: "When they are working from home, they buy from their suki, from the palengke, that's an MSME. They're also buying from carinderias."

"If we're in Eastwood, we're buying from big businesses," he pointed out.

The return-to-office order takes effect on April 1st.

BPO employers have yet to respond to CNN Philippines' request for comment.