Philippines' BPO workers to return onsite starting April 1

But the government and industry are disagreeing over the deadline

Philippines' BPO workers to return onsite starting April 1

Workers from the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry in the Philippines are expected to return to workplaces starting April 1, despite appeals from the industry to extend the remote work arrangements.

This comes after the inter-agency Fiscal Incentives Review Board (FIRB) ordered in 2021 that work-from-home (WFH) arrangements for the Information Technology-Business Process Management (IT-BPM) enterprises can only extend up to March 31 this year.

And with the deadline closing in, the IT & Business Process Association of the Philippines appealed to the government for an extension so they can have a few more months to transition their workforce back in their offices.

However, these calls were met by a threat from the government, which warned them that non-compliant companies will have their tax perks revoked.

'Time-bound' measure

FIRB chair and Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III also explained that the WFH arrangement was only a "time-bound" measure to help companies during the surge of pandemic.

"Given the increasing vaccination rate of Filipinos nationwide, we can now undertake safe measures for physical reporting of employees, including those working in the IT-BPM firms operating within ecozones and freeports," he said in a statement.

Dominguez added that employees returning to their workplaces would also be beneficial to local micro, small, and medium enterprises that rely on workers to keep their livelihoods going.

Read more: Philippines eases restrictions in Metro Manila

Lawmakers back BPO workers

Following the FIRB's statement, several lawmakers jumped to the defence of rejected BPO workers, citing the expenses for employees if the return-to-work scheme pushes through.

Former Makati City Representative Monsour Del Rosario, who authored the Telecommuting Act of 2018 in Congress, was among the lawmakers who called on the FIRB to rethink its decision.

"Who's going to suffer from this sudden imposition of a return-to-office deadline, but the humble BPO workers who helped keep our economy afloat over the past two years? All the BPOs are asking for is a few months extension. Why is that so hard to give?" he said in a statement.

The lawmaker also cited the struggle of making employees endure the country's already "crippled" public transport system, adding that easing traffic congestion was one of the reasons why he pushed for the Telecommuting Act in the first place.

"Imagine if we bring everyone out again while our public transport system is currently being crippled by the rising fuel prices, then wouldn’t our BPO workers suffer more physically, mentally, and even financially?" he said.

Senator Joel Villanueva, who also sponsored and authored the Telecommuting Act, defended that BPO workers’ call to extend the March 31 deadline is "very reasonable" given the skyrocketing fuel prices that are made worse by the Ukraine-Russia crisis.

"They just want to be allowed to continue working from home. It is a mitigation measure that will not cost the government anything," the senator said in a statement.

The BPO industry is one of the relatively successful sectors despite the pandemic taking a grip over the world, which helped generate over 20,000 new jobs thanks also to WFH arrangements.

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