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Entire BPO sector unfairly tainted by one outbreak, laments Henry - Several firms set to continue remote working arrangements as order expires

Published:Sunday | May 31, 2020 | 12:00 AMCorey Robinson - Senior Staff Reporter
Gloria Henry, GSAJ president.
Johann ‘Yoni’ Epstein, the founder of itelbpo solutions.

AS MANY companies look to have more staff return to the office tomorrow as the work-from-home order issued as part of the COVID-19 containment measures expires, eyes will be focused on the outsourcing sector, where an outbreak at Alorica’s Portmore operations triggered a major shift in the country’s response to the pandemic.

With some outsourcing firms keen on having some staff continue to serve clients from home, Global Services Association of Jamaica (GSAJ) President Gloria Henry is lamenting that the outbreak is being used to unfairly paint the entire sector in a negative light.

Alorica’s Portmore-based operations have been linked to more than 230 of the island’s nearly 600 confirmed cases of the coronavirus. Both its Portmore and Kingston operations were closed after the outbreak and a criminal probe launched into possible breaches of the Disaster Risk Management Act.

That investigation and a subsequent two-week St Catherine lockdown were also seen a factors contributing to the collapse of several businesses and subsequent layoffs in major towns in the parish.

At least 7,500 business process outsourcing (BPO) workers from companies registered to the GSAJ have been laid off in recent months. Of that number, only 3,000 have reportedly been reinstated.

The GSAJ represents 73 firms in the island, but several other entities, including Alorica, operating in the island have not been registered with the umbrella group.

President Henry said at least 40 per cent of BPO staff islandwide are currently working from home, and that the overall number of employees within the sector has fallen from an estimated 43,000 last December to 36,000 currently.

Henry has said that a request has been made to the Government for outsourcing firms to continue their work-from-home arrangements until the end of the year “so that sites can continue to practice social distancing, but more importantly, to keep workers safe and employed”.

She cautioned Jamaicans against the bad-mouthing of the entire sector, citing the growing income source for many Jamaican youths, and the discrimination that has befallen members of the sector.

“The sector was not hard-hit. [It was] a company that is not even a member – or was not a member at the time – one company,” she said. “The sector is being broad-brushed and I think it is very unfortunate. ... Even persons who should know better are still talking about the BPO sector, when really it was one company that had a spread in Portmore.”


Henry said that only four other cases were confirmed with firms registered with the GSAJ. She said a strict compliance with Ministry of Health & Wellness protocols foiled a larger outbreak.

Founding chairman of itelbpo, Yoni Epstein, agrees.

“The Government of Jamaica handled this thing very well. Most other countries just shut down their industries and did not even give them any notice,” he posited. “[In Jamaica,] it was a very collaborative dialogue and process to ensure that while we are protecting lives through this pandemic, we are keeping the economy going in a safe manner,” he said.

Epstein said that 80 per cent of his staff members are working from home, but that the company will see how best to operate on a 50:50 ratio of staff members working from home and in office in the coming months.