Defying prohibitions, call center workers gravitate toward association

“When they say go to work, you can’t say anything. We have work on Philippine holidays. We have work on US holidays… In the end we don’t really have holidays.”

See also: Call center employees call on colleagues to get organized

By MARYA SALAMAT
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – Ian Porquia, 26, is the former secretary-general of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan in Panay. Driven by his family’s economic needs, he decided to go to Manila to look for a job. He had to support the schooling of a sister and the medication of his father. In Manila, he spent five days hopping from one job fair to another.

Without meaning to, he realized he had submitted job applications mostly to call centers. In fact, after five days of job hunting, he realized that all available jobs there happened to be BPO jobs.

He started working at SPI Global in June 2012, as a call center agent and then as a supervisor. But he resigned this year due to “management issues.”

The incentives of lower-tier supervisors were withdrawn without explanation, except to tell them it was “redundant.” The said incentive amounts to P4,000 ($89) per quarter, or P12,000 ($266) in a year. Meanwhile, the high-tier supervisors continued receiving incentives.

“We raised our concerns but the management ignored us,” Porquia told Bulatlat.com.

The cost-cutting affected 21 supervisors in their department alone. SPI has that tier of supervisor for every 15 employees, and it has a total of 800 to 1,000 employees in its Makati office.

More than the amount involved, the seeming unfairness and the cavalier treatment had incensed Porquia, prompting him to leave the company for another BPO.

Now, he is working as a “benefit administrator,” administering and managing benefits of clients of another BPO company. It has a workforce of 2,000 in Glorietta, Makati Business District.

Porquia arrived to work in BPOs in Manila months after other call center agents who used to be leaders also of different socio-civic organizations had initiated a series of kapihans to form a network seeking BPO employees’ empowerment. He took part in it and in 2013, with his background as a mass leader, Porquia was elected as president of BIEN (BPO Industry Employees Network) in its first general assembly.

He looks more like a thin Filipino Harry Potter, but he and the rest of BIEN conveners, including some fashionistas, are happy to announce their expanding reach. As a certified industry-wide employees association, they said, BIEN remained to be a close-knit network of BPO employees. They envision the same bonded by the strength of most of the 917,000 BPO workers nationwide.

Can they achieve this?

An employee of a big BPO company gives a peek into possibilities. When this fair-skinned chinito introduced himself at the BIEN second general assembly, he got a lot of cheers after he said he has been working in his present company for eight years now, continuously.

Unfortunately, because in this company the employees are categorically banned from speaking out about the company, Richard Mendoza (not his real name), 34, requested to not mention in this article the name of this company or his real name.

Of their batch of 20, Richard said, only two of them have remained in the company — the rest have transferred to other BPO jobs.

His workday lasts nine hours, consisting of 7.5 hours of work and 1.5 hours of break. This means that under the eight-hour labor law, he is being given only a half-hour break.

His gross income is P28,000 ($622) a month, but his take home amounts to P20,000 ($444).

Eye opener

Richard said he had voted for Noynoy Aquino in the 2010 presidential elections. At about the same time he heard about BIEN in the news. “I heard about BIEN but not in a good light,” he said. He read an article, which came out in the Philippine Daily Inquirer. In the said article, BIEN was quoted as telling President Aquino: “Stop fooling us, BPO workers know otherwise.”

Still, Richard joined BIEN. “In my eight years (of BPO work) I’ve encountered many issues – I feel oppressed. I feel I have almost memorized the Labor laws for having read it frequently,” he told Bulatlat.com.

He joined BIEN because he got convinced it is really supporting the needs of BPO workers. He repeatedly talked of how oppressed they are, how oppressed their rights are, as BPO workers.

He said he knows also that people look down on them as “just call center employees.” Tired and haggard from work, he recalled how one day, a guy shoving them inside a crowded MRT coach told him: “Taga-call center ka lang! (you’re only from a call center)!”

That helped him realize he needs to speak for his fellow BPO workers, too, like what the BIEN members are doing.

Being oppressed is a common problem among BPO employees, he said. “We have no retirement benefits. They keep telling us our nightwork is compensated with premium pay.” But Richard doubts this. He blames many of his and his fellow employees’ health issues on their working condition.

About holidays, “When they say go to work, you can’t say anything. We have work on Philippine holidays. We have work on US holidays… In the end we don’t really have holidays,��� Richard said.

To enjoy a holiday, they have to request permission.

Richard said if you’re “unlucky,” your rest day will not fall on a Saturday and Sunday. If you’re truly unlucky, your rest day may not even be a consecutive two days.

“If you’re in call center, they really try to suppress your voice,” Richard said. Your voice, that is, when it comes to your working condition and rights. The call center agents’ voices are contracted to work for the big outsourcing companies.

Richard said they are prohibited from joining any kind of union. It is written in their company guidelines. Joining any kind of union can result in their termination.

To counter that, he agrees that they need to get organized and grow in number. ()

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  1. Unions or governments will not solve your problem. Get a real skills. There are no more skilled workers in Philippines. Everyone wants to be a call center easy job. Everyone wants to work in stinking Manila.

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