Mon | Dec 11, 2023

BPO sector mulls AI, union representation

Published:Friday | May 12, 2023 | 12:38 AMMark Titus/Senior Gleaner Writer


TRADE UNIONIST John Levy says the push by Global Services Association of Jamaica (GSAJ) to increase its workforce to 75, 000 within the next two years, amid the threat of artificial intelligence (AI), highlights the need for union representation.

As a matter of fact, Levy believes that to avoid exploitation, workers must demand union representation, and is calling on the government to revisit the terms of engagement established with foreign investors, as the likelihood of losing jobs to AI will increase.

“We have been reaching out to them, and we have had some feedback, but most are in fear,” said Levy, general secretary of the Union of Clerical, Administrative and Supervisory Employees (UCASE), in an interview with The Gleaner. “It is frightening to know that, in 2023, so many workers are afraid to express themselves and most of the entities do not have the support mechanism that the law demands.

“The Government of Jamaica needs to take a look at that industry and continue to nurture it and be prepared to establish a giant industrial council for the BPO sector based on where we at now, it would be a good time to get that going before we start to get the kind of security guard responses that workers don’t get to express themselves,” added Levy.

His views are somewhat dissimilar to that of Gloria Henry, the immediate past president of the GSAJ. Henry believes that while unions provide value in addressing ‘gaps’ in work environments where management is non-responsive to employee concerns, this is not the case for BPO (business process outsourcing) workers.

“Although I am not a BPO operator, from where I sit, I don’t see that happening,” said Henry, vice president of BPO and logistics at the Port Authority of Jamaica. “But I know that within the BPO sector, many of the large players have been involving them (workers) in decision-making. They have done a lot to provide for the workers and there is proper representation when there are issues, so to me, it is a robust environment where people are free to voice their concerns and have them resolved.”

She maintains that the suggestion that well-managed, highly motivated, and in many cases competitively paid workers need unions, is based on unfounded allegations and a conflation of outdated stereotypes.

Several Government and private-sector entities have scuppered attempts to establish formal arrangements to protect the rights of workers, with the use of fixed-term contracts as a alternative.

Fixed-term contracts are subject to renewal or extension at the sole discretion of the employer, and Levy believes that such an arrangement creates inequality in bargaining, especially in a market like Jamaica where labour supply is greater than demand.

Ainsley Morris, who has been employed in the sector for 18 years, told The Gleaner it’s the best in which he has worked.

“I am satisfied, that is why I am here. I perform, I am compensated, there are no real issues,” Morris said. “It is all about your attitude.”

Concerns remain that AI could impact thousands of jobs in the coming years, but leading players in the sector continue to assure that will not be the case.

Anand Biradar, the GSAJ president, is hoping that sector players will learn of the technology innovations and policies shaping the industry, at the fourth staging of the Outsource2Jamaica Conference and Expo, themed ‘Ahead of the Curve’, which got under way yesterday at Jewel Grande Montego Bay Resort & Spa in St James.