BPO industry’s increasing shift to automation worries call center agents, impacts women more

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PhilStar file photo of a BPO center.

BAGUIO CITY – The government continues to tout the business process outsourcing sector as a key growth driver and jobs generator, but has not done much to stem the danger of job losses as many big businesses, especially foreign clients, shift to automation, an industry leader said.

According to BPO Industry Employees Network (BIEN) spokesperson Mylene Cabalona, the IT-Business Process Management (ITBPM) has reported the alarming impact of automation on jobs, given that at present BPO workers do not enjoy security of tenure even if they are considered regular employees.

According to the ITBPM, employment in the low-end services will be slashed by at least 43,000 due to the shift to automation. The International Labour Organization (ILO) paints a dimmer picture – citing that 89% of BPO workers in the Philippines are at high risk due to the change in technology.

“Companies implement many schemes in order to ‘manage out’ employees when necessary. Workers are forced to resign or their companies render them floating for months with no pay when clients pull out from vendors, even if the company is continuously hiring for other clients. With the projected job losses due to automation, the situation can get worse and massive,” Cabalona said.

The group underscored the precarious nature of jobs and the vulnerability of the BPO industry itself. “The possible impact on jobs and workers of this shift to automation also exposes how insecure jobs are in the BPO industry and even the industry itself. It is heavily reliant on foreign markets and changes, outside of our control. The danger is the government seems to depend on BPO industry to generate employment, however precarious. If the government is serious at securing decent jobs for the people, then it should look into developing more robust industries to create jobs,” Cabalona said.

No unions

The group noted that since trade unions in the BPO Industry are virtually non-existent, BPO employees do not have a voice, are unable to defend their rights, and are thus bound to suffer the consequences of automation.

“The shift to automation is ultimately driven by companies’ desire to further bring down its costs. And the disruptions due to the shift to automation do not pertain to business disruptions, because this shift will benefit companies more while livelihoods of thousands of Filipino workers and their families will be at risk,” Cabalona added.

The group is also worried that the shift from low-end services to middle and high-end services with automation will disadvantage more women working in the BPO industry. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), majority of those working in the BPO sector are women but they are largely employed in low-paid and low-skilled jobs.

“Companies and the government should be reminded that it is first and foremost their responsibility to uphold and respect the right of workers to secure and decent jobs. The shift in technology should not mean displacement and burden for the workers. BPO workers are thus summoned to unite and take action to assert our rights in this context,” Cabalona added.