Tue | Jan 26, 2021

Outsourcing sector’s work at home regime gathering steam

Published:Tuesday | July 14, 2020 | 12:32 AMMark Titus/Gleaner Writer

Western Bureau:

The Global Services Association of Jamaica (GSAJ) is now in talks with key regulatory services to develop the operating standards for a sustainable work-at-home regime by September 19 as the arrangement sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be employed by many firms.

“When the pandemic started, they came to us early, requesting support for a work-from-home arrangement, which we supported,” Metry Seaga, chairman of the Jamaica Special Economic Zone Authority (JSEZA), told The Gleaner yesterday. “They have received another extension until September 19, but they are now seeking a permanent arrangement and the [finance] minister has instructed that all the agencies, such as the TAJ (Tax Administration Jamaica) and Customs, should discuss the proposal.

“We are hoping to have a definite position on the way forward post-COVID pandemic before the September 19 deadline,” added Seaga.

According to data from the GSAJ, between 40 and 48 per cent of the 36,000 individuals employed in the industry are currently working from home. The number fluctuates at times, based on the needs of clients.

Interestingly, the business process outsourcing operators have reportedly realised significant savings in operational costs since the Government was forced to shutter the sector over concerns about operational best practices amid a COVID-19 outbreak at the Alorica call centre in Portmore, St Catherine. The sector is hoping for additional time – up to the end of the year – to fine-tune a permanent arrangement if the September 19 deadline cannot be met.

In a five-page letter to Prime Minister Andrew Holness, JSEZA CEO Dr Eric Dean advised against allowing the creation of virtual SEZs to facilitate the outsourcing sector.

According to Dean, this could cause a range of problems, including creating loopholes in the tax system. He said the virtual SEZs might also have negative consequences for developers, who have invested in building out space, creating a proliferation of single-entity SEZs.

“It should also be highlighted that if the aim of virtual SEZs is to facilitate work from home or off-site work, virtual SEZs are not required,” said Dean. “The authority recommends that the BPO sector focuses on creating a value-creating niche in the global information technology space.

“The entire COVID-19 pandemic has exposed opportunities in offshoring in healthcare, health education, and telemedicine,” continued Dean in his letter. “The new paradigm of business is still fluid, and it is not clear what will obtain in the next few months, the GOJ [Government of Jamaica], therefore, has to be cautious whilst responsive to commerce.”

There are currently 91 BPO sites operating in Jamaica. Some 13 remain closed, while 73 have been certified and are now back in operation.