Business Processing Outsource (BPO, call centre) workers in the Philippines face challenges that are familiar to many casualised New Zealand workers: fixed term contracts, night shifts, lack of safe transport and childcare, are the kind of conditions that make it difficult for workers to plan for their futures and maintain healthy relationships.
The call centre industry employs an estimated 1.3 million – and the industry accounts for around 10% of GDP. While workers are relatively well paid, they are often subject to “fire-at-will” policies, and contracts which are inconsistent with Filipino labor law.
With support from First Union, UnionAID has worked with the BPO Industry Employees Network (BIEN) to support the development of unions in call centres, to create safer, stronger communities of workers through solidarity.
Unions in the Philippines can’t organise sector wide – this means new trade unions need to be established for each workplace. BIEN has facilitated training sessions which cover subjects like organizing unions, paralegal training, health and safety and labor rights. Organising workers to organise themselves.
Workers in Filipino call centres need to be available for customers on the other side of the world, making for unusual hours, a 5am finish is not uncommon.
BIEN has supported the formation of special interest groups such as League of Environmentally Aware Folks (LEAF) and Artists in BPOs United for Social Change (Aux).
These special interest groups have hosted a number of after work social events – including music events held in the morning after shifts end and a solidarity visit to an indigenous protest camp to support their fight for land rights. These events have helped strengthen workplace relationships, build new contacts and recruit members.
On the 28th of April BIEN commemorated International Workers’ Memorial Day, expressing solidarity with all workers and remembering those who had lost their lives in workplace disasters. This was particularly poignant as in December 2017, 37 call centre workers tragically lost their lives in a fire in Davao City. BIEN held a fact finding mission in the City and have since held press conferences and protest actions to lobby for justice for these workers. The network has called for the passage of an Occupational Health and Safety Bill to make companies legally accountable for workplace injury and death.
First Union organises finance, industrial (textile and wood), retail and pharmacy workers in New Zealand. As well as supporting UnionAID and our partners overseas, the union supports First Union Samoa, and has member networks including Unimeg for migrant workers in New Zealand and the Indian Workers Association.