‘Crunch taking toll on BPO workers’ health’

Published by rudy Date posted on March 18, 2009

MANILA, Philippines – A labor study group warned Wednesday that occupational health risks in the outsourcing industry are likely to increase after the Business Processing Association of the Philippines (BPAP) said companies are scaling down growth targets and hiring of new personnel, if not already laying off some.

The Quezon City-based Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education and Research (EILER) said BPO firms that shed staff tend to overwork their remaining employees.

“It has come to our attention that some outsourcing companies are already employing reduced workforce[s] while encouraging multitasking and additional unpaid work hours, which will further distress the health of the employees,” EILER deputy executive director Anna Leah Escresa-Colina said in a statement sent to the Philippine Daily Inquirer (parent company of INQUIRER.net).

She said last year, EILER undertook a research on call centers servicing the airline, railway, bus, cruise ship/ferry industries, and logistics, goods and transport industries.

The research, she said, found out that the occupational health risks from graveyard shifts, long working hours, very cool temperatures in work places, and high work stress due to high quotas are very serious and potentially life-threatening.

Most of the respondents, according to Colina, experienced sleeping problems, eye strain, overall fatigue, headaches, chest and back pains, voice problems and mental stress. Other health hazards were work stress, work time, and irrational behavior of customers.

“Despite such high occupational health risks in call centers, clinical services are found to be wanting especially during graveyard shifts,” she added, recalling that in 2007, a stress-induced death of a call center agent was reported in the media.

Colina also found fault in BPAP’s statement that it was still possible to earn $13 billion in revenues as indicated by the so-called BPO Roadmap 2010.

“But to be able to reach this revenue target, the right of BPO employees to organize will be effectively suppressed as only organized employees can comprehensively advance their concerns on health and safety, career paths and development, skills development, their social life, savings for their future and long-term occupation security,” she explained.

The EILER official said the BPO industry is virtually union-free because organizing in the sector is said to be covertly and overtly discouraged by the management.

EILER also said that the Department of Labor and Employment’s new Guidelines on Flexible Work Arrangements which encouraged establishments to impose forced leaves, overtime without pay, shift reduction, rotation, compressed work week and other practices could undermine the rights of workers of in other industries as well.– Jerome Aning, Philippine Daily Inquirer

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