Monday, April 10, 2006

Leftists should leave call centers alone!

Recently, KMU, a leftist “labor” organization criticized call centers as a hub of exploitation, stressing that local labor is just a small fraction of what local call center agents get in the US. Precisely. We have those call centers here because we pay lower wages. That’s our comparative advantage. But it doesn’t mean call center agents here are “exploited.” The purchasing power parity between Americans and Filipinos are different.

Besides, call center agents are not forced to work in those offices. No one is violating their free will. One would be surprised to find out that many call center agents are former teachers, nurses, computer programmers, and office clerks. That means they came to call centers because they get something more. Their pay is significantly higher than what KMU organizers receive from their organization. Their pay is even higher than what the typical private sector business offers. Call center working environment is definitely a lot better than the typical factory we have here in the Philippines.

If there are people who should complain about “call center exploitation” it should be the call center agents themselves, and not the KMU. These people are smart and tech-savvy; they have all the avenues for their grievances. They could always post their complaints in web fora and web logs but try surfing about “call center exploitation” and you can’t find one entry. Well there are the usual rantings about call center life but these people know they could always leave and find life elsewhere. If they don’t like their work environment, they could always get another outsourcing job and they don’t need labor unions to represent them. Yes, workers in call centers are empowered. Call centers in fact pay them before they start working or even during their training stage, and they get more benefits including night differentials, rice allowances, and performances bonuses. Yes, the call centers actually do all they can to retain staff knowing that agents could always find another job somewhere.

KMU also belittles the call centers for not contributing directly to “industrial development.” What do they expect? It’s a service industry, stupid! But it doesn’t mean that they don’t contribute much to the economy. In fact they do. India for instance has been growing at 7-9 percent on the strength of its outsourcing industry, including call centers and software engineering. Our own rough estimate is that total payroll of call centers (assuming 70,000 seats and 200,000 call center agents) in the Philippines alone could run up to P3.6 billion a month. That kind of money translates to a huge purchasing power that powers up the factories [where KMU does its organizing], and other service industries (from sari-sari stories to banks, sidewalk vendors, taxis, and everything else in between). It’s nice that we have all these outsourcing services because it means many of us would no longer have to go abroad to get this kind work.

Of course, call centers could be boring, but it’s a real job that pays real money for people’s real needs. Call center jobs, KMU say, are “dead end jobs” but so are the jobs of janitors, security guards, nurses, drivers, clerks, journalists, labor organizers, librarians, soldiers, toll both operators, communist cadres, among many others. Why is KMU so condescending on these perfectly honest professions?

Given its socialist, nay communist, ideology, KMU necessarily longs for a socialist smokestack utopia that no longer exists (not even in North Korea and Cuba). But for call center agents who just want to have something to pay for their family’s needs, a job is a job is a job. But why should KMU begrudge them? Couldn’t the KMU be a little bit sensitive to these call center workers? After all, majority—we say 70 percent of these call center workers—comes from poor families. The children of the middle class could not just bear the pressures of such kind of work.

Apparently, the Leftists are denigrating the call centers because the industry has rendered them irrelevant. They are criticizing industry because they could not do their usual agitation within the sector. Yes, they couldn’t collect union dues from them because workers there do not have a need for their presence. But it’s nice, however, that other labor organizations like the TUCP are not doing the same. Maybe these organizations are a bit more broad-minded to appreciate the sector’s contribution to society.

KMU’s statement against call centers show just how KMU has become a reactionary entity. Outsourcing has become a new international division of labor that has bestowed a lot of economic benefits to India, the Philippines, former communist countries like Hungary, Poland, and Russia. Now, Communists governments like China and Vietnam have embraced this industry as a way to strengthen their economies. And why should KMU be against this industry? I guess the KMU, supposedly a labor front, should be a bit less judgmental of workers in the service sector.

I’m raising this concern because KMU’s armed underground counterparts may yet harass or destabilize the industry after the gods in KMU and the Left has given their thumb of disapproval. We really pray they won’t do that, for the sake—not of the government—but of the ordinary people who are making a living out of this emerging industry.

To all the KMU and the Left movement, please leave the call centers and their workers alone.


Peachy Herrin said...

oh well... they can't trigger the people who are busy making a living to go to the streets so now its the people's source of income they attack... ala na ba talaga sila magawa? magtrabaho na lang sila! uunlad pa ang bansa. PI nila! they should look at themselves first if they are contributing to the ECONOMY of the country. sheesh!

Dave Llorito said...

I agree with you peachy. completely. its ironic that people who pretend to be "labor center" are the ones denigrating call center people who are just doing honest living. if they cant be of help of these working people, they should at least observe hippocratic oath: do no harm. those leftists are thinking they are harming the government of arroyo by attacking call centers. what they failed to comprehend is that these call centers are hear because we can do the job and not because of the government.

Deany Bocobo said...

Good post David! It is ironic that the defenders of the proletariat aren't interested in good jobs for them. At the same time, I think that the call center business is gonna be chafing under the telecomms cartel, which controls the gateways and therefore the profits to some extent. It is to increase such competition and lower the costs for entry into the industry that KMU and the Left ought to really fight.

Deany Bocobo said...

BTW, I think one area where mass organizations could be better deployed is in CONSUMER protection. I've been literally burned by a lot cheap chinese goods coming in, especially electrical and mechanical products. It's dangerous how they are not "United Labs" compliant. Am actually thinking of starting a special blog on bad products, a lot like Gizmodo or Engadget but mainly for BAD or dangerous products. think this might be viable?

Dave Llorito said...

rizalist: thanks djb. i agree with you that kmu should instead devote its energies on fighting monopolies and oligopolies. but they can't do that. because they are also protective of the status qou, of these monopolies where supposedly they do their organizing efforts. remember that unions of old thrive in the old protected and oligopolistic business environment, the reason why they were once called the "labor aristocracy", and they don't want to share those fiefdoms with the unemployed. attacking monopolies therefore is also a threat to these kind of unions. the best way to create jobs is through a less rigid labor market but unions like the kmu always resisted labor market reforms to perpetuate their status as labor aristocrats. but with the advent of the service economy, kmu are being left behind, the reason for their hostility to the service economy.

Dave Llorito said...

rizalist: yes, consumer protection is definitely necessary these days. the statistics bear this out. more than 70 percent of our GDP is contributed by personal consumption expenditures, the disposable incomes coming largely from OFW remittances, and outsourcing dollars, the export industry. Which means the economy is consumer-driven. i'm sure a lot of us hunger for this kind of blogs or media service.

Dave Llorito said...

From Alex: "The ideological underpinnings are still founded in the old (industrial and agricultural) economic framework. They are not ready yet for the new economy." That's true! And they are now an instrument of the Right, if that label still makes sense.

Anonymous said...

Hi Llorito,

I think you're partly right: call centers have a good side for people who want to improve their skills in communication, telemarketing etc. Such people can gain extra sales skills in such places and use them to move up to do more interesting things later on (in or not in call centers)

Dave Llorito said...

anonymous: totally agree with you. and one thing more: call centers do expand people's choices. development really is all about expanding people's choices in life.

Unknown said...

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