BPO and Jamaica
Jamaica has recently acquired a heavy reliance on Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) Jobs. While these jobs provide people with the means to make an honest living, they come with many drawbacks (as do many service oriented employment opportunities in the third world). BPO Jobs (through their training programs) break down the formal educational barrier as well as the barrier of experience in getting employment. This is great for individuals who are unqualified for other jobs based on educational background and also youth workers who, “somehow” lack the 3-5 years of working experience required to get a job otherwise. The BPO sector also drives economic growth…but what is sacrificed in order to attain this growth?
One does not have to ask many questions in order to receive negative descriptions of the working experiences of BPO employees. Long shifts, odd hours, zero tolerance for phone use along with being constantly under surveillance are some of the downsides of a typical base-level call center job. Extremely short breaks (as short as 10 minutes) are also a commonality.
Along with all of this is the fact that the jobs are in no way satisfying to the workers and shifts are difficult to get through unless you keep yourself motivated, which takes significant mental strength. This motivation usually comes in the hopes of one day being promoted, but not everyone can be manager, so what happens to those who are not promoted?
In no way am I saying that a job shouldn’t be stressful, most jobs are, but compensation should reflect the stress levels of a job. In the BPO industry, there are some call centers which provide additional compensation based on performance, but in order to attain this additional compensation, the already stressful job becomes grossly so.
To answer what happens to those who aren’t promoted, they are simply left working dead end jobs that provide no satisfaction and face the choice of either taking the risk of leaving to seek employment elsewhere, or staying, hoping for the promotion one day. This is in no way what a work environment should be like.
Government intervention is very necessary to protect the rights of BPO workers. The problem with this is that if Jamaica is no longer a desirable location for BPO centers, they will simply go elsewhere. In other words, if they cannot abuse/mistreat our workers, they will go elsewhere and do so because the opportunity will present itself due to poverty in the third/developing world.
If the government fails to regulate the sector, this can be seen as the government intentionally engaging in the race to the bottom (along-side our currency devaluation).
Why is this important? The BPO sector is becoming the number one source of employment in Western Jamaica. There are approximately 22,000 people currently employed in the BPO sector and that number is expected to rise in the coming years. 8,000 addition BPO jobs are expected in the island this year alone. The ultimate goal of the sector is to employ some 300,000 Jamaicans.
There has to be action taken in order to regulate the industry and protect our workers. These companies walk away with millions in profit on a yearly basis, appropriate compensation for our workers is not unreasonable. Are all these workers expected to continue to receive the short end of the stick for the lifespan of these jobs?
Will we sit by and watch our policy makers race us to the bottom? I certainly will not. The time for action against the government selling us cheaply on the international market is now. How much longer will we sit by as policy makers, who for the most part do not experience the effects of their policies, continue to subject us to these substandard conditions?
Even with government regulation, does BPO employment have a future in a world of growing automation? If we plan to subject 300,000 Jamaicans to working in the BPO sector, there should at least be some sort of goal to improve their future. Instead, there is currently a great threat to BPO employment globally. There must be public disclosure about how the government plans to deal BPO regulation, as well as with the threat of the automation of the industry, unless the plan of course is to be sitting ducks.
An article will be written in the near future about the impact of Artificial Intelligence and Automation on the BPO Industry, as well as other jobs in Jamaica.