Issue of August 6, 2017
Mt. Province

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Councilors take distance from BPO labor dispute
by Rimaliza A. Opiña

The city council referred back to the committee on employment, livelihood, cooperatives and persons with disability the labor dispute between the business process outsourcing firm, Sitel, and some of employees led by Vicente Toca III, a member of the Sitel Philippines Baguio Association of Rank and File Workers (Spark).

With the case now undergoing conciliation at the National Conciliation and Mediation Board, the council said it should not be involved in a case being handled by another government agency.

In the council’s session last Aug. 2, representatives of Sitel, Department of Labor and Employment, and Spark attended the committee’s invitation to “shed light” about the company’s redeployment program or the reassigning of a call center agent to another account following termination of the contract of the account they previously handled.

According to the Spark, redeployment is a form of constructive dismissal for they are not paid their salaries and other benefits while undergoing reassessment prior to their assignment to a new account. The group claims 1,000 employees are affected by Sitel’s redeployment program. They filed a complaint before the NCMB, at the same time asked assistance from the city council and the media.

Sitel Vice President for Operations Michael dela Peña said reports about the supposed termination of many employees have put the company in a bad light.

Having been awarded with numerous citations for adherence to labor laws and occupational safety, dela Peña said the company was taken aback by Spark’s allegations. He said the group’s claims are false.

He said the redeployment program is the company’s way of maintaining workers in their employ. Prior to an agent’s transfer, they are informed that they remain regular employees, they are not being demo-ted, and their remuneration and other benefits shall remain the same.

At the council’s session, Toca said this scheme forces many call center agents to resign for they are not being paid until they are assigned to a new account.

Dela Peña said the average waiting period is 15 days. During the period, affected employees are made to undergo trainings where they will be assessed anew in preparation for the handling of a new account.

DOLE Regional Director Ronie Exequiel Guzman explained redeployment is not the same as termination. In the recent inspection of the agency at Sitel, witnessed by a representative of Spark and the Baguio City Economic Zone Authority (BCEZ), no worker has so far complained about alleged oppressive labor practices. He said if workers feel their rights are being violated, they may bring their concerns to DOLE.

BCEZ Administrator Rene Joey Mipa also said while the government is giving incentives to locators at economic zones, the BCEZ does not tolerate oppression of labor.

For the city council, the issue, while under the ambit of the DOLE, has brought out the situation of workers in BPO companies.

Councilor Benny Bomogao said the national government should perhaps come up with measures to shorten the duration of an agent’s waiting period. On the other hand, he said the training and reassessment program should be taken by workers as opportunity to enhance their skills.

Councilor Elmer Datuin also hopes the matter will be solved at the soonest time possible saying the issue might affect the confidence of investors.

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