Gov’t OFW reintegration program unmasked: Turning ‘supermaids’ into call center agents

The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration’s (OWWA) recent opening of a call center training program for Filipino domestic workers in Hong Kong provides us a glimpse of what’s in store for our overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) when they decide to return ‘for good’ in the country. It also exposed how and why the Arroyo government’s so-called reintegration program for our returning ‘modern day heroes,’ is doomed to fail.

After years of hard work in foreign lands, away from their families and the comforts of home; the government’s big plan it turns out, is to turn ‘supermaids’ into call center agents.

Labor Secretary Marianito Roque said the program aims to train domestic workers – touted by the government as ‘supermaids’ – so they may land jobs at the country’s booming call center industry upon their return. He said call center jobs pay the same as their previous jobs in Hong Kong .

The program consists of a 40-hour call center training course which a domestic worker can take for two hours during days off. The OWWA will provide the training for free.

Roque added that while the OWWA would be in charge of training prospective call center agents, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), would take care of their placement when they get home.

Hire and fire

The government’s reintegration agenda would essentially pit returning OFWs into jobs that are currently reeling from record high turnover rates or in jobs where attrition levels are at their highest.

The Contact Center Association of the Philippines (CCAP) has earlier stated that the turn-over rate in the industry has hit 60 to 80 percent; a fact that has earned for the Philippines the title of having the most turn-over rates among the world’s call centers.

Some believe that there actually exists a hire and fire policy in the Philippines ’ call centers. Journal of Service Industry Management researcher and industry analyst Catriona Wallace explains that the high turnover rates are often the result of a “deliberate strategy of frequent employee replacement to provide enthusiastic and highly motivated customer service at low cost to the call centre.”

“What you see here is an industry-wide policy of firing and replacing employees to keep their workforce fresh and motivated,” she said.

For Prof. Ben Teehankee, chair of the Human Resource Management Department of La Salle School of Business in Manila, if ever there’s truth in the hire and fire policy of call centers here, this strategy is just “not consistent with giving good jobs to Filipinos and developing people for higher job responsibilities.”

Meanwhile, a recent study conducted by Callcentres.net, a publishing group that is focused on the contact center sector, revealed that full time call center agents in the Philippines would stay in the company for an average of only 22 months, while part-time agents often stay for only about 10 months.

The Sidney based Callcentres.net said the study was sponsored by software solutions provider Genesys and Autonomy and covered almost 2,500 call centers across Asia . In the Philippines , 87 companies were covered by the study.

The high attrition rates has prompted almost all of the call centers in the Philippines to embark on a full-blown advertising campaign to encourage the Filipino youth to consider a career in the industry. News papers and even MRT stations are teeming with ads that promise a lucrative career in call centers, with slogans: “Are you getting paid for your performance?” “Ride your future with us!” “Great careers happen overnight!” “Entrust your dreams with us!” “Earn as much as P40,000 a month!” “Get our P10,000 signing bonus!”

A call center company is reportedly even giving their employees’ parents tours in the workplace to impress upon them that there really is a bright future for their kids in their company.

Exploited, dehumanized

But for most of call center employees, they quit simply because they feel exploited. This fact is further compounded by the droning routine in the workplace, the more than the usual fare of angry and cussing clients and the graveyard shifts that are already taking its toll on their health.

Iya Cipres, 26, a call center agent working in Mandaluyong City, says that though their pay is relatively higher than most of the jobs that are available in the market, the disparity between their monthly wage compared to how much the company makes is simply unfair and downright exploitative.

She said call centers rake in a lot of money in each call from clients who are mostly from the West. In her company, an agent there receives an average of 250 calls a day or more than 6000 calls per month. The average number of seats in Philippine call centers, according to Callcentres.net, is about 670 to 800.

Cipres also related how they are being “dehumanized” in their work. She said they are confined daily in their cubicles where even bathroom breaks are restricted to only two minutes. Their calls she added are being monitored and most of the time, recorded, by supervisors who checks on how they handle calls, how courteous and effective they are in solving the client’s complaints and/or inquiries.

Days off are irregular, falling on days that are dependent on the company’s judgment.

“We are forced to meet the company’s service level even during times when we simply can’t,” she said, noting that these very conditions trigger resignations, job-swaps and transfers in call centers.

Still, thousands like Iya are forced to stomach these deplorable conditions. “We have no choice,” she said. Cipres has a child to support and her husband’s earnings as an OFW simply isn’t enough to cover their expenses.

Quite a number also of call center agents treat their jobs as mere ‘transition’. Some of them, like Angel, 28, work there while processing applications for overseas employment.

Angel is a nursing graduate, who works in the same call center as Cipres. She is currently processing her application to work as a nurse or a caregiver in the United Kingdom.

Doomed to fail

Though the call center industry in the Philippines has room for more than 500,000 jobs until the year 2010 and is set to hire more than 10,000 agents monthly according to the CCAP, the government’s plan to train OFWs for call center employment upon their return, simply put, is doomed to fail.

In spite of this, with the opening of a call center training outfit in Hong Kong, we can expect the government to do the same in other countries such as Italy , Spain , South Korea, China and Japan . OFWs there that have learned the language and culture already has the edge in landing jobs in call centers here that provide language translations, tutorials etc.

Still, work in the country’s ‘sunshine industry,’ that is the call centers, can’t be considered long term and viable as what is needed and rightfully deserved by our returning migrant Filipino workers.

Expect them to line up again in various recruitment agencies or in the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) building for another shot in overseas employment after a few months of work as call center agents. ###

7 Comments

  1. I’ve been in the industry a long time and US call center workers have already gone through what you describe in your article.

    Too bad there isn’t a solution. Are all the call center companies that bad with treatment of their employees?

  2. Hi thanks for your comment. Conditions in the majority of call centers in the country are generally the same. Because their sole motivation in setting up shop here in the Philippines is for profit. And lots of it.

    So it is expected that they would be treating their employees as work horses, to earn more for the company.

    No matter how they sugar coat the industry, by offering a string of perks and raffles, the fact remains that they really are exploiting our poor call center employees.

    But we cant blame them. As said in the article, there’s no other choice here in the country. Except of course, abroad.

    Cheers

  3. So that is the government’s “big plan” for reintegration? Turn supermaids into call center agents huh? What’s for Plan B?
    http://milkcashcow.wordpress.com

  4. Yes joe. mukhang ganyan na nga ang plano ng gubyerno. nakakalungkot kasi sa totoo lang, walang aasahang long-term na trabaho mula sa pamahalaan ang mga magpo-‘por gud’ na OFW.

    Sa Call Center sila target itambak.

    Heto ang kapalit ng ilang taon na sakripisyo nila sa abroad: ilang buwan sa kolsenter.

  5. […] here for my previous entry on RP call centers. Possibly related posts: (automatically […]

  6. The profit-margin for the IT-business-segment is about 16%. The profit-margin for the call-center business segment is about 35%. Reason : C++ and UNIX programmers are fewer, higher-skilled, higher-paid.

    Also the high turnover rate for call-center employees reduces by 8% to 10% the effective profit to the business (in other words, call-center-business effective profit margin is under 25%).

  7. Excellent reporting, man.


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