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BIEN sounds alarm over hike in COVID cases among BPO employees

THE BPO Industry Employees Network sounded the alarm on the rising number of positive cases among workers as they begin monitoring the COVID-19 situation among workers in the industry on March 31. So far, the group recorded over 40 positive cases coming from 4 BPO companies located in NCR. The monitoring mapped out workplace infection in 2 companies located in Ortigas, 1 in BGC Taguig and 1 in Paranaque.

The group lamented that the figure cited is still conservative data as significant number of reports from anonymous sources are not yet added. Most of these individuals who anonymously report positive cases on-site are hesitant in disclosing the name of the company and its location due to fear of retaliation.

We are alarmed that despite the claims of BPO companies that they are adhering to minimum health standards, onsite workers are still vulnerable for contracting the virus because they need to travel from home to their respective offices. It means that they have high degree of exposure and they may put their co-workers and families at greater risks,” explained BIEN President Mylene Cabalona.

The group said the data cited is based on those reported by chapters and individual workers who are seek help. They also noted that alarming cases of outbreaks or workplace infections were recorded this year in Baguio (255 workers), Iloilo (105 workers), Bacolod (41 workers), and Bacoor, Cavite (14).

The problem still remains the same as last year. When a worker contracted the virus, particularly those deemed as mild and asymptomatic cases, are simply advised to go on home quarantine, putting their families in greater risk of transmission and infection,” Cabalona added.

Contacting their respective LGUs lies on their discretion. But we all know that LGUs are overstretched and their plate is full as far as COVID response is concerned. There is no coordination between the management and LGU. The lack of transparency makes it difficult to check the real number of positive cases in the BPO industry. Workers need support such as where to go for swabbing, where to report for contact tracing, who to contact to get aid, are some of the basic questions that remain unanswered and unaddressed. The worst part, when a worker becomes positive, no additional leave credits are provided. It will be taken against his or her existing leave credits or placed under a no work no pay scheme if the leaves are already exhausted,” Cabalona averred.

In the recent Google data as of April 7, mobility trends for places at work is at -41% from baseline. The data explains that there is a dramatic decrease in people mobility or those going to workplaces from the period of Feb 24 to April 7. Despite the downtrend in mobility among workers, the positivity rate is still high at 23.8% as of April 4.

We call on stakeholders, especially industry players, to take action on this alarming situation in various BPO centers. We demand transparency in reporting positive cases and immediately coordinate these to the LGUs. We emphasize the need to strictly adhere to COVID prevention and control in the workplace and minimum health standards by companies. We appeal to include BPO workers to government aid as we are classified as essential workers and economic front liners. We reiterate our call for sufficient testing, efficient contact tracing, and proactive health support for those who contracted COVID, and safe and effective vaccines for all. We demand the IATF and the Duterte administration to get their act together and do something as we are in a very alarming state. Filling up policy gaps are urgently needed. We don’t want another COVID death in our ranks because of lack of foresight, slow-paced, and uncalibrated government response. We deserve better than this.” Cabalona ended.