The Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) on Friday said it will appeal a government decision to compel business processing outsourcing (BPO) companies to require their workers to report to work physically in their offices by April 1 or lose their tax incentives.
PEZA had earlier asked that the BPO companies be allowed to continue work-from-home (WFH) arrangements beyond the April 1 deadline, but the Fiscal Incentives Review Board (FIRB) led by the Department of Finance (DOF) rejected its request.
PEZA Director-General Charito Booc, however, said the FIRB issued its decision before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine drove fuel prices to record highs.
Booc said the decision was “abrupt,” and noted that the industry was able to help the economy grow even when its employees were working remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic.
She also said the skyrocketing fuel prices as a result of Russia’s war on Ukraine was another reason to extend the WFH arrangements for BPO workers.
The IT and BPO Process Association of the Philippines (IBPAP) has proposed a hybrid setup that would balance working on-site or from anywhere, saying this would improve the country’s competitiveness in the BPO industry.
The association also sought more time to get its workers back to their offices.
“It was difficult to move personnel and equipment from onsite to home, it will also be equally difficult to move [back] over 1 million [workers], to move onsite. We need a longer runway,” said Jack Madrid, the group’s president.
Calls for an extension of the WFH arrangements gained the support of Senator Risa Hontiveros, saying this made sense “in the middle of an oil price crisis.”
She said it was reasonable to let BPO workers continue with the work-from-home arrangements to help cushion the effects of rising transport costs.
Hontiveros also said that it was wrong for the DOF to say that it is important to end the work from home scheme to revive the economy.
The National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) and DOF’s argument against work from home arrangements should not be legalistic, she said.
Vice presidential candidate Senator Francis Pangilinan also supported an extension of the WFH arrangement for the BPO industry.
“The pandemic is not yet over. The danger to our health still remains. And everybody knows the continuing spikes in oil prices in the world market due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine,” Pangilinan said.
The savings of IT-BPO workers from the continuing work-from-home would be a huge help to their families, he said.
Senator Joel Villanueva said if the government is scrambling to “soften the pain” of surging oil prices for many sectors like drivers and farmers, then 1.3 million BPO workers should be entitled to the same mitigation.
But BPO workers, Villanueva pointed out, in spite of plowing P1.5 trillion into the economy yearly, “are not asking for billions of pesos in fuel subsidy.”
“They just want to be allowed to continue working from home. It is a mitigation measure that will not cost the government anything,” he said.
Villanueva disagreed with government claims that a return-to-work for call center employees will provide local micro, small, and medium enterprises with a needed economic jolt.
“The location of their workstation has no bearing on their spending habits or the level of their savings,” he said.
In fact, by working at home, “BPO workers are keeping community enterprises alive.”
Villanueva backed industry calls to set back the deadline to return to onsite work until the lifting of the state of calamity, “to allow for seamless transition, for the sake of our workers.”
Also on Friday, the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) reminded business owners and employers that the four-day compressed work week and work-from-home are not mandatory, and no diminution of wages should result from their implementation.
TUCP president Raymond Mendoza said there should be no reduction of wages and benefits as all labor rights and standards still have to be observed even under a compressed work week.
“The proposed four-day compressed work week will require the consent of workers because it means setting aside the eight-hour work-day. Workers are supposed to have eight hours of work, eight hours of sleep, and eight hours with their families. Only workers can waive the right to an eight-hour workday. Workers must therefore be consulted regarding the compressed work week, workers will also have to voluntarily agree to the proposal, the agreement must be reduced to writing, and the agreement must be submitted to the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) to ensure monitoring and no management abuse,” he said.
Mendoza further emphasized that these flexible work arrangements should be compliant with the non-diminution of wages and benefits.