BPO workers group asks who will cover the cost of mandatory testing

“Who is going to cover the cost of the COVID testing for workers?”

The BPO Industry Employees Network (BIEN) posed this question to the Philippine government and the Department of Labor and Employment following the issuance of DOLE supplemental guidelines on the COVID control and prevention in the workplace.

“The previous guidelines that the DOLE-DTI issued clearly were not enough to curb the spread of the virus in the workplace. Now, there is a new set of guidelines that mandates regular PCR testing for most workers every three months. But it remains unclear who shall shoulder the cost,” Prestoza said.

While the guidelines says that it can be covered by Philhealth, private health insurance, or in coordination with the LGUs, the group raised concerns that unless the government categorically guarantees it will shoulder the cost, then mandatory testing may end up as additional burden for workers.

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BIEN sounds alarm over COVID19 outbreaks in many BPOs

“The rate is extremely alarming. We are enraged and saddened whenever we hear a co-worker in the BPO sector tested positive for COVID, let alone to hear an outbreak in a site. It is heart-breaking when we receive a report that a colleague in the industry died of it.”

This is the reaction of Sarah Prestoza, Vice President of BPO Industry Employees Network (BIEN) as the group expressed alarm over the successive reports of COVID outbreaks in many call center companies.

The group said that they have monitored at least 15 call center sites where there are COVID cases and a few of these companies have had outbreaks with not less than 20 cases in a single site. In one call center in Mall of Asia at least 102 workers already tested positive. On May 11, it was reported that at least 99 call center agents in Iloilo tested positive, two BPO sites are on lockdown and one died. Reports from the ground said that the toll has increased to 115 as of writing. In Bacolod, news also reported at least one call center agent died of COVID 19.

A call center company in Bacolod City. Photo from Wikipedia.

“Many BPO workers are already afraid to work on site because it is not safe. The guidelines put out by the government are simply not enough to stop the spread of the virus. Until and unless the government implements a thorough health response via testing, contact tracing and treatment to combat this pandemic, then we can expect more outbreaks in more call centers and other workplaces,” Prestoza said.

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BIEN supports house bills on BPO Workers Protection and Welfare

The BPO Industry Employees Network expressed support to passage the four house bills that aims ensure the protection and welfare of BPO workers. The four bills are as follows:

  • HB 274 (Rep. Aglipay), AN ACT ENSURING THE WELFARE AND PROTECTION OF BUSINESS PROCESS OUTSOURCING (BPO) WORKERS IN THE PHILIPPINES
  • HB 4236 (Rep. Nieto) & HB 5590 (Rep. Noel), AN ACT PROVIDING FOR THE PROTECTION OF WORKERS IN THE BUSINESS PROCESS OUTSOURCING (BPO) INDUSTRY
  • HB 5754 (Rep. Elago et. al), AN ACT ENSURING THE WELFARE AND PROTECTION OF BUSINESS PROCESS OUTSOURCING (BPO) WORKERS AND THE RECOGNITION OF THEIR RIGHTS AS PROVIDED FOR IN THE LABOR CODE OF THE PHILIPPINES
  • HB 6190 (Rep. Hipolito), AN ACT PROVIDING FOR THE PROTECTION OF EMPLOYEES IN THE BUSINESS PROCESS OUTSOURCING (BPO) INDUSTRY

“We are grateful to the members of the 18th Congress especially the House Committee on Labor and the authors of the bills. This piece of legislation is a long overdue. We have been fighting for it since 2013. We hope that this time Congress will certify it as urgent for the benefit of over 1 million BPO workers in the country,” Sarah Prestoza, BIEN Vice President said.

In a position paper dated August 4, the group identified salient provisions that should be included in the bill notably- workers’ access to relevant information; protection from Understaffing or Overloading; freedom from interference or coercion to support the right to freedom of association; additional 15 minute bio-breaks and more for women experiencing reproductive issues; additional benefits to promote safety, health and overall well-being (i.e. transportation services; mandated HMO coverage; mental and Psychological support); prohibition of floating while hiring; and pro-worker safety policy during natural disasters or dangers.

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