Unionizing & Daytimizing Philippine Outsourcing [?]

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 9/25/2014 01:30:00 AM
They work the early morning hours...for good reason.
There's an interesting article over at Bloomberg talking about the Philippines' emergence as a global hub for business process outsourcing (BPO) industries. At the same time, it points out disturbing proposed legislation that may kill the goose that lays the golden egg. As Daniel Pink explains, these BPO industries do mostly routine tasks, not the more creative ones that cannot (yet) be performed outside Western metropoles. Still, they have made significant contributions to the Philippine economy. Let us begin with some figures:
During the past decade, business process outsourcing -- which encompasses call centers, health-care information management and computer animation, among others -- has emerged as one of the fastest-growing segments of the country’s $272 billion economy.
In 2013, the BPO industry generated $15.5 billion in revenue and employed 900,000 people, up from $3.2 billion and 240,000 people in 2006, according to the IT and Business Process Association of the Philippines, or IBPAP.
Along the way, the industry eclipsed tourism as one of the biggest sources of foreign revenue, behind remittances sent home by Filipinos working abroad -- payments that reached a record $23 billion in 2013. It’s grown so fast that Philippine Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago last year proposed legislation to safeguard the welfare of BPO workers and ensure their rights to unionize. 
Then the article goes more into legislation with provisions on work hours and unionization:
Citing International Labour Organization studies, Santiago said 42.6 percent of BPO employees worked night shifts, and many suffered from insomnia and fatigue. As of mid-September, her bill was pending before the Senate Committee on Labor, Employment and Human Resources. IBPAP Chief Executive Officer Jose Mari Mercado says the industry upholds high standards. “Our assets are our people,” he says. “We take extra effort to ensure that we compensate them properly and provide them with health and wellness packages.”

Mercado says that by 2016, outsourcing may generate $25 billion in revenue and employ 1.3 million people, matching cash remittances for the first time. And BPO workers offer a plus that the Filipino diaspora doesn’t, he says. “The difference is that our 1.3 million are here with their families, and they spend all of their money here,” he says, adding that each outsourcing job generates as many as 2.5 jobs in retail, public transportation and other service businesses. 
I have two problems with this proposed bill: First, and this is the obvious point, you will need to work during the late evening and early morning hours in the BPO industry to match the hours of your export market. For instance, (US) Pacific time is 15 hours behind that in the Philippines. Obviously, customers in California will be calling to ask for support during hours when they are awake. Or, doctors will ask for medical transcriptions to be made during work hours when they see patients. This is obvious and industry-specific. While sleep-related problems may occur for some BPO workers, it's in the nature of the job for the same reason that it is laughable if fitness trainers complain about physical exertion or emergency medical responders complain about the need to be on alert nearly all the time. Deal with it or find another line of work.

Second, encouraging unionization is equally dubious. One of the Philippines' known advantages over other call centers like those in India is having a more "neutral" accent (read: sound more like a Midwesterner). Another one is that, until now at least, the Philippines has had less labor unrest than India--a political risk factor routinely cited by those investing or considering investing in India. Would American firms used to ever-declining union participation at home and union non-involvement abroad welcome efforts to organize workers in the Philippines? I strongly doubt it. Mark my word: labor militancy is an FDI killer up there with the Ebola virus with a side helping of MERS.

Funny how people think of all sorts of ways to shoot themselves in the foot. From where I come from, they usually run for office.