Make them safe first

Make them safe first

We feel sympathy for labor groups who oppose the government’s order for BPO (business process outsourcing) workers to return to office by April 1.

They have a point. After all, we have been strangled for two years by the coronavirus 2019 pandemic, which has in that span infected millions and killed more than 50,000 – women, men, children, and the elderly.

The labor groups said the government has not given any assurance that the BPO workers would be safe from the virus and from adequate transportation amid the rising cost of petroleum products.

The labor group Partido Manggagawa said BPO workers must be safe when they return to their offices.

“ Mandating the return to office of 1.4 million IT and BPO workers on the sole basis of economic and tax reasons disregards the issue of health and safety of employees. This is a recipe for disaster,” Bryan Nadua of PM said.

Rachel Balares, who heads a group of BPO workers, said the return to office work would compromise their safety and hurt their productivity.

“Our ability to work from home or work from anywhere helps keep us and our families safe. And we all know that we are not completely out of the woods yet of the pandemic,” Balares said.

Another group of BPO Employees also opposed the return to officer order by the Fiscal Incentives Review Board of the Department of Finance. The FIRB cited the CREATE Law that provides that BPO as economic zones must be “exclusively conducted or operated within the geographical boundaries of the zone or freeport.”

In contrast, the BPO workers argue that “The occupational safety and health committees, with employee representation, are in the best position to evaluate safety in our workplaces and recommend a safe full RTO or to maintain the present hybrid setup — not a government that ignores real-life conditions.”

We are persuaded by workers’ argument that the Philippines subscribes to the principle of tripartism and social dialogue and yet the return to office order was without the benefit of consultation and discussion with BPO workers.

Jodelle Villanueva, a former Customer Service Representative before becoming an HR Manager in a BPO in one of her previous engagements, argued that COVID-19 is very transmissible in the enclosed office setting of BPOs.

“Even before the pandemic, if one BPO employee gets a cough or cold, in a day or two, someone else will show similar symptoms due to infection. Headsets too are sometimes shared among employees and are another way by which COVID-19 might be easily transmitted in a 100 percent fully operational scenario,” Villanueva added.

The workers are suggesting that alternatives be considered such as 50 to 75 percent of BPO workers returning to the office and implementing a compressed workweek while maintaining the work for home or anywhere for the rest of the week.

The PM is calling on Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello to initiate a tripartite social dialogue, that must include representatives of BPO workers, to come up with an acceptable solution to the return to office in BPOs.

April 1 is just a few days away.

On another issue, we saw this week that presidential candidate former senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. and his running mate Sara Duterte-Carpio kept their lead in the latest Pulse Asia survey on preferred presidential candidates after capturing “the imagination of a good percentage of our voters” in the February survey of Pulse Asia.

In the survey of 2,400 registered voters conducted Feb. 18 to 23, the 64-year-old Marcos got the vote of 60 percent of 2,400 adult respondents while Duterte-Carpio posted a 29 percent lead over Senate President Vicente Sotto, who had 24 percent.

This is the “first time” that Pulse Asia has seen a “majority percentage selecting one candidate,” according to its executive director Ana Tabunda.

We are persuaded to agree with her assessment, in an interview at ANC’s Headstart, that Marcos has “captured the imagination of a good percentage of our voters (and) has more than adequate resources to sustain his presence in social media, his caravans, his campaign.”

There will be, of course, layers of reasons from the other candidates who – this early we hear the echoes of their arguments – will say that the surveys don’t mean the election results.

In whatever case, Vice President Leni Robredo was backed by 15 percent of likely voters, placing second in the latest survey, followed by Manila Mayor Isko Moreno Domagoso at 10 percent, and Senators Emmanuel Pacquiao and Panfilo Lacson at 8 percent and 2 percent, respectively.

But Lacson remains unbothered by the latest poll survey results showing him lagging behind other candidates.

“Surveys are not elections. Last time I heard, (the) election is on May 9. I’m not bothered at all simply because the numbers I feel on the ground are different from what the surveys indicate,” Lacson said in a statement Monday night.

However, Lacson said he was puzzled as to why his figures in surveys were still low despite performing well in the presidential forums and interviews.

According to Tabunda, the survey “captures” the so-called “Solid North” while Robredo got majority of her likely voters in her home region Bicol.

Domagoso, at his best, captured the support of 20 percent of likely voters in Calabarzon and 22 percent in Mimaropa, Tabunda added.

“The increase of 2 percentage points over January is not significant so essentially he stayed at the same level. We don’t see an increasing trend,” she said.

The February survey is essentially “the same numbers we saw in January,” according to Tabunda.

“Statistically speaking if they are only 5 percentage points away from him…that would be easier to overtake him. It’s not impossible but the probability is not large. The probability of that happening is not large,” she said.

Then there is this scheduled Comelec-sanctioned presidential debates on March 19 – that’s tomorrow – where, at this point, only nine appeared to have confirmed in writing or verbally their participation.

Let’s see how the debates will roll – with Marcos skipping the weekend debate, the first of two arranged by the Comelec before election day on May 9. (ai/mtvn)

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