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BPO sector: the good, the bad and the ugly

Published:Saturday | January 16, 2016 | 1:00 AM

THE EDITOR, Sir:

The business process outsourcing (BPO) sector is seen as a lifesaver for the Jamaican economy, and there is much excitement when there's an announcement that another company is set to start operations.

We welcome this, as it provides much-needed jobs for a number of persons. In a Jamaica Observer article titled 'BPO explosion', published on August 5, 2015, it was said that Yoni Epstein (CEO of ItelBPO) informed his audience that Jamaica is "more competitive than some of its counterparts for several reasons, including the fact that it is in the same time zone as northeast United States, it's an English-speaking country, the incentive package is competitive globally, there is a large pool of skilled individuals, the attrition rate is much lower, and the devaluation of the dollar has made retail pricing compete with places like the Philippines".

That is really good news, and who wouldn't be glad about it? However, with all the jubilation and celebrations, I am yet to read an article praising the hard-working agents who have made the industry such a success. It seems to me that the owners and management team are doing all the work. That is just great to know that they are able to multitask and provide the excellent work needed without the help of the more than 17,000 agents the sector employs. I applaud each and every one of you.

In terms of competitiveness, Jamaica is second to none, and the reason for this is that there are some companies, especially on the Montego Bay Free Zone who are paying their agents less than US$2 per hour (in other countries, agents are working US$4 an hour) and the incentive structure is set up in such a way that less than half of the agents in the company is able to really meet it. And, if they do meet it, there are certain procedures in place that will cause them to lose some of that money they have worked so hard to get.

INCENTIVE DEDUCTIONS

Take, for instance, a company that deducts certain amount of money from the incentive an agent makes. Personally, I have experienced this, wherein I started working with a base pay of $200 and I was told that over a period of time, this would increase. Until the time I left, no increase was done, and to make matters worse, when I went over my break and lunch by just a minute, $750 was deducted.

I could not stay with such a company that operated in such a way, and I eventually landed a job in the hospitality industry and am now happily employed. Plus, management makes it so comfortable, I feel as if I'm among family. At no time did I feel comfortable while working at a call centre.

My heart aches for the agents who are still at the company I was briefly employed to because I know what they are going through. My main reason, though, for writing this letter is to highlight something that I overheard some persons talking about. Based on my understanding, a co-worker of theirs went on vacation and was not paid for his vacation time. When he went to the account department, it caused an uproar because the employee was adamant that he wanted his money before the next pay period. If an employee is entitled to paid leave, why not pay the individual?

This brings into focus one of the many atrocities that some free zone workers have to face. Many persons are doing their jobs and the 'Big Man' is getting all the praise. Something has to be done. There needs to be a set rate at which workers should be paid, and a body available that will make periodic reviews. In addition, there needs to be a body that represents these workers that they can go to when various issues arise.

As we go forward into 2016 and see more BPO companies come on board, I do hope that there will be changes in the way agents are treated.

M. HIGGINS