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Tough on BPOs - PM announces stiff measures for call centres amid COVID spike as major player closes two plants

Published:Thursday | April 16, 2020 | 12:21 AMRomario Scott/Gleaner Writer
An aerial photograph of the Portmore, St Catherine, branch of Alorica, a business process outsourcing firm which has been the epicentre of mass transmission of the new coronavirus.
An aerial photograph of the Portmore, St Catherine, branch of Alorica, a business process outsourcing firm which has been the epicentre of mass transmission of the new coronavirus.

Tough restrictions are now in place for business process outsourcing (BPO) operations over heightened concern that call centres are hubs for community transmission of COVID-19 even as it has been revealed that another firm has shuttered because an employee might have been exposed.

In fact, Prime Minister Andrew Holness has announced that all BPOs in Portmore have been ordered closed by virtue of the seven-day lockdown of the parish that took effect on Wednesday morning.

Fifty-two of Jamaica’s 125 COVID-19 cases have been linked to the Alorica Portmore call centre.

Holness said that while the State has heavily invested in the sector and has always been careful with how it monitors the sector, “its members and stakeholders should understand that the Government will take the most extreme actions if we have evidence that the stakeholders in the industry, including the employees, are negligent, casual, or belligerent in following the guidelines and orders of the Government,” the prime minister said in Parliament yesterday.

Sutherland Global last night said it was closing its South Camp Road plant in Kingston, disclosing that the health ministry has tested one of its employee who may have come in contact with a positive case.

“Although we have not been directed to do so by the MOHW, Sutherland has taken the proactive decision, out of an abundance of caution, to temporarily close the South Camp Road facility. Effective 8 p.m., Wednesday, April 15, 2020, the site will close and remain closed until otherwise advised,” Doug Almond, country head for Sutherland in Jamaica, said.

The MOHW is the Ministry of Health and Wellness.

As for the other BPO plants that remain open, Holness said as of today, until May 14, handwashing and sanitation equipment must be placed at the entrances of BPOs, in their lunchrooms, and in recreation areas.

The prime minister also said that equipment and workstations must be sanitised before each work shift, and each employee should be provided with individual headsets as of April 21.

“Currently, the users of the headsets change with the shift. Now, they have to provide an individual headset for each employee that only that employee uses.

“It’s hard to sterilise the headsets because they have the sponge and the soft material. It is easier to sterilise the workstation,” Holness explained.

Temperature checks must be conducted and logged on each employee before entering the BPO workspace.

Holness also said that each workstation must be at least six feet away from the other in order to maintain physical distancing.

The prime minister announced that employees with flu-like illnesses and other respiratory symptoms should not turn up to work.

“Immediately on the operator becoming aware that a person at the business premises has tested positive for COVID-19, the business premises must be closed and the Ministry for Health and Wellness informed that the person has tested positive within the last 14 days,” Holness said, adding that the ministry would then move to investigate the extent of the exposure.

Employees could be suspended if they fail to follow the orders, Holness said.

A daily report is to be forwarded to the director general of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management for compliance checks.