“WCSI management remained deaf and blind to the fear of many employees because of so many information being withheld by the company.”
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – For the second time in a week, restless employees of West Contact Services, Inc., a business process outsourcing company with offices in Makati, held a collective action Thursday night February 26 to press the company for an assurance concerning their tenure, job security and benefits.
West Contact Services Incorporated has reportedly sold its shares and contracts to Andy Lee, owner of Alorica, in one of the biggest acquisitions in the country’s BPO sector. The acquisition will be the 4th biggest in the country, said a statement by the BPO Industry Employees Network (BIEN).
The sale is spooking the West Contact Services employees, because some of them have had “traumatic experiences” before with Alorica or with similar BPO takeovers.
“WCSI management remained deaf and blind to the fear of many employees because of so many information being withheld by the company. Initially the management said the acquisition will happen sometime in April or May, giving time for the employees to fully understand the process and the impact on their employment. Just recently, the management announced that the acquisition will happen February 27, 2015, leaving that uncertainty and many questions unanswered,” BIEN said.
In interviews with Bulatlat.com last Thursday while West Contact employees were lighting candles for their job security outside the Export Plaza Building in Makati, some of them recounted their experiences with past BPO takeovers.
“Employees of West Contact Services who came from Alorica were traumatized,” said Sarah Prestoza, 38, Tech Support in the company for four years now. She said that in past BPO takeovers her co-workers experienced, some of them were retrenched, or they lost their years of service and benefits. Employees who came from Advanced Contact Solutions (ACS) who were summarily dismissed were especially fearful.
Prestoza shared that as far as call centers go, their job situation now in West Contact seems better. Aside from their being regular and “tenured” on the job, she praised “Spectrum,” a kind of mode of arranging among the employees themselves their overtime and shift schedules, something which, Prestoza said, only West Contact has done among other BPOs.
With the arrangement, Prestoza said, they can add or cut down their hours of overtime, or exchange shift schedules with fellow employees, without incurring the ire of their bosses.
West Contact Services Inc. is among the so-called top five favorite BPOs of contractors; Alorica is not even among the top 10.
That Thursday also, the employees said they were met by management in what they called as “Townhall meeting,” where the West Contact Services Inc. General Manager Beth Carabuena reportedly told the employees that Alorica and West Contact would continue as two different BPOs, and she assured the employees they will be retained on the job.
The employees want not just a verbal but a written assurance, one that also says their tenure of say, three to five to eight years in the company, will continue on record as do the benefits they are receiving.
But during their “townhall meeting,” the management forbade them to take down notes or record the proceedings, saying it has the minutes of the meeting, anyway.
“But we don’t have that,” said Bernard, an employee for three years now.
He said their company has not announced any likely retrenchment – in fact, he said, the top management has told them they will be absorbed and the work will go on. But will they be absorbed as employees with their present years in service on record? Or will their work history be regarded as “back to zero?”
Other benefits which the employees said seem better than in other BPOs, and one they would like to hold on to even with the takeover of the owner of Alorica, are the 20-percent night differential. Amy Sumagaysay (not her real name), a participant in the candle lighting ceremony Thursday, said in other BPOs, night differential is lower. Sumagaysay has worked with West Contact for six years now. She has worked in other BPOs, but she has worked the longest in West Contact.
Some benefits they want to maintain are less quantifiable, for example, the “good camaraderie among employees and the good relationship with management, unlike in other BPOs where the executives are bossy,” said Bernard, a West Contact employee.
In a statement, the Kilusang Mayo Uno expressed support of the actions of the BPO employees in defense of their job security, tenure and benefits. Roger Soluta, secretary-general of KMU, said the soon-to-be completed sale “should not go the way of other BPO companies which have violated employees’ rights in the course of acquisition.”
Inspiring actions of still unionless BPO employees
Joining the employees of West Contact Services Inc are BPO employees from other companies who are allied with BIEN (BPO Industry Employees’ Network).
Rhea Alegre, coordinator for BIEN in the Bonifacio Global City, said the collective action of West Contact Services Inc employees are “inspiring” to members of their BIEN chapter in JP Morgan Chase’s BPO offices in Bonifacio Global City. Like employees of West Contact, telephone bankers of JP Morgan Chase do not have a union.
Alegre said JP Morgan Chase is implementing cost cutting by removing benefits formerly being received by employees. The company is also promoting “strict policies patterned after some BPOs.” Some of it is the PIP (Performance Improvement Plan). In this plan, the company enrolls the employees with low performance and if they still do not improve, they would be terminated.
“Now the company is imposing stricter quality guidelines, banning dead air in calls, nearly prohibiting a more natural conversation by enforcing the rattling off of “complete messages,” said Alegre.
JP Morgan Chase has 5,000 employees in Manila, and 2,000 in Cebu. Like West Contact Services with 5,000 employees in Manila, its employees are approximately 60 percent to 70-percent composed of women. BIEN has chapters in these BPO companies.
BIEN Philippines is urging support for the United Employees of WCSI. They also launched an online campaign in Facebook through their FB page Support the Call for Security of Tenure of West Contact Employees and the hashtag #WeSupportUnitedEmployeesofWest.