IT-BPO workers oppose gov't return-to-office order

If the new projections come true, the BPO industry, a key dollar engine of the Philippines, would reverse the 1% contraction posted last year, when pandemic curbs were at their tightest. For next year, BSP forecasts BPO receipts to grow 5%, unchanged from the prediction it gave in September.

MANILA, Philippines — Workers in the information technology – business process outsourcing industry slammed the government’s decision to stand pat on making them return to their offices beginning April 1, calling this “inconsiderate, insensitive and inhumane.”

“This is … certainly not how you treat the new economic frontliners of the country,” said an IT-BPO coalition backing the presidential candidacy of Vice President Leni Robredo and her running mate Sen. Kiko Pangilinan.

They stressed that the country is not completely out of the woods of the pandemic as they said that the situation remains “volatile” with them expecting surges, new coronavirus variants and the waning efficacy of vaccines and boosters.

They asked if the government has long-term plans for testing and vaccination in the workplace, health insurance and other measures to protect on-site workers and public transport commuters.

“Sending us to work on-site without safety nets or a strategic plan is irresponsible and dangerous,” the coalition said.

Besides, they added, they “thrived” in the hybrid work model which allowed them to contribute to the economy, generate new jobs and expand business even as other sectors were adversely impacted by the pandemic.

“Without hybrid working, we will endanger our hard-fought jobs,” they said, noting that more companies and countries recognize that this model is the future of work. “Forcing us to return to our physical offices would erode our competitive advantage. It may just kill the goose that lays the golden egg.”

They also raised the inadequacy of public transportation, saying this saps their energy, reduces their productivity and affects their mental health and physical wellbeing.

The government has given IT-BPO companies located in economic zones that grant tax perks only until March 31 to implement remote work for 90% of their workforce, when the industry wanted this to be extended to September 12.

Companies that would violate the return-to-office order would risk having their tax breaks curtailed, a punishment that could potentially hurt their business and derail their recovery from the pandemic.

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez reasoned that the increasing vaccination rate in the country is enough basis for workers to return onsite.

Dominguez, who also chairs the Fiscal Incentives Review Board that makes policies on and oversees the administration and grant of tax incentives, added that the return to offices would help micro, small and medium enterprises recover from the pandemic.

The largest economic zone in the country, the Philippine Economic Zone Authority, said they will appeal the government’s return-to-office order and ask for a hybrid setup, combining on-site and remote work arrangements. — Xave Gregorio with a report from Ramon Royandoyan

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