Davao’s booming BPO jobs have few takers, high stress

Aug. 28, 2014

DAVAO CITY –  The business processing outsourcing (BPO) industry here is expected to generate some 37,000 jobs in Davao City in the next two years.  But while industry leaders here admit to difficulty in meeting this demand, some sectors want more protection of workers’ rights.

Information and Communication Technology (ICT)-Davao Industry Development President Samuel Matunog said that more BPO companies are expanding and coming to this city, prompting a demand for more workers at 9,000 by 2015 and 37,000 more in 2016.

Matunog said there is always a shortage of graduates in Davao and in the vicinity areas to fill the demand for skills of IT engineers, software developers, graphics designers and call center agents.

“Investors are now looking into Davao, but we need to produce employees,” he said.

Matunog identified some problems in the education sector, which only churn out 1,000 IT graduates  a year out of 20,000 college graduates

The ICT official blamed the moratorium in schools to expand IT  courses and the lack of takers of government scholarships worth P5.4 million for short-term IT and call center courses.

Matunog said the ICT would consult with school heads on this matter as the industry needs to produce skilled, English proficient BPO workers within two years.

“We need to overhaul the training programs (of the schools). Because when the BPOs come, there is no luxury of time,” he said.

The Philippines has been named Asia’s top destination for BPOs in recent years, overtaking India. The industry could provide a salary of P12,000 to P14,000 a month for call center agents, and around P30,000 for software developers.

Work-related stress

But as the demand for these jobs remained unfilled, two former BPO workers interviewed by Davao Today corroborate the repeated complaints about the job.

They said that beyond skills-training, the industry has to address workers’ welfare in a “holistic” way.

Bejay Absin, who has worked 10 years in two major BPO companies, said companies should look at ways to address work-related and emotional stress he said is common among BPO workers.

“You work eight to nine hours a day, in graveyard shifts most of the time. You get stressed when you encounter clients who are rude and insult you online,” he said.

Absin said that in his work as a technical support specialist, he would get at least one negative call a day from a client who would heap invectives and insults on him for 10 to 20 minutes over problems in their products.  At times, he said, clients would insult him if they found out he is Filipino.

“One of them called me a monkey,” he said. “I snapped back and said, ‘yes, I’m a monkey and a smart one. Eat your bananas to get smart too, bitch.”

But he recalled his colleague cried for an hour after getting insulted. But as a rule, call center agents cannot talk back.

“As Filipinos we are taught values of pag-kapwa tao (being courteous), but when you get into that booth, all those things just fly out of the booth,” he said.

Absinsaid he raised these concerns during a meeting with his human resource head, and suggested holding a team building sessions to boost morale. But his suggestion was rebuffed.

It seems that for some companies, team building is equivalent to having outings with bottles of beer over the place,” he pointed out.

Work-related stress has also brought Absin to the hospital three times during his ten-year stint; the worse was having his gall bladder removed that forced him to rest for one month.

Absin said that while he hanged on to his job for years, he saw the shelf-life of a BPO employee was only a couple of years.

“Some even leave for a month or a year. They take the brunt of everything, the bullying. They can’t take the stress, the emotions, plus the time not spent for family or friends.,” he said.

He said that over the years, when he and other ‘veterans’ would  see ‘newbies’ or first-timers, they would ask themselves, do these kids know what they are entering.

Those are things an agent is not prepared for,” Absin said. “I think that’s a thing that schools and companies should also address. Companies working in the BPO service should stress that word service in helping its workers.”

Benjie Badal, another BPO employee, recalled working in a call center to support his college education. But he got stressed out as his company paid workers on “commission basis.”

“The pay is high, but when you don’t get sales for a day, you get nothing. You have to look for ways to entice clients to buy the services,” he said.

Growth and workers’ rights

Both Absin and Badal said that while the country promotes the BPO to entice young graduates there has been consequences.

Absin said that he had lawyers and nurses as co-employees, and also high school students.  “So that’s our worth to the world. This in essence keeps us from real development.”

“You have graduates that don’t get jobs right for their courses and instead work in call centers, malls, tourism spots.  It seems whatever the demand is outside, we just provide them,” added Badal.

The labor center Kilusang Mayo Uno points out that job security in the BPO industry is uncertain, as all are client-based.

KMU Southern Mindanao spokesperson Romualdo Basilio said that as government aggressively promotes BPO through job fairs, it has to make sure the benefits and rights for BPO workers are guaranteed.

Since government heavily promotesthe BPO industry, it must ensure that the BPO workers are entitled to their rights such as better benefits, better working conditions and the right to form unions or associations to bargain with the management,” Basilio said. (davaotoday.com)

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