Monday 3 August, 2020

BPO sector loses nearly $6 billion to COVID - Vaz

The Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) sector has lost approximately US$42 million ($5.88 billion) in revenue due to restrictions caused by the COVID-19 crisis.

This was revealed by Daryl Vaz, Minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation during his contribution to the 2020/21 Sectoral Debate in the House of Representatives on Tuesday.

At the time of his presentation, Vaz had responsibility for land, environment, climate change and investment. Since Wednesday he has been shifted to take charge of water and housing.

Vaz noted that the local BPO sector was closed on April 22 as Jamaica’s COVID-19 cases rose sharply following an outbreak at the Alorica call centre in Portmore, St Catherine. Up to Wednesday, the Alorica cluster was responsible for 236 of Jamaica’s 678 confirmed cases of the coronavirus.

“Members will recall that following the increase in cases due to the Alorica call centre, a decision was taken to close all call centres. Despite this, we managed to retain more than 33,000 workers in the sector, and are moving to see how best to retrieve approximately 7,000 jobs due to the measures imposed to curb the spread of the virus,” Vaz said.

He noted that the work-from-home arrangements were extended for approximately 40 per cent of the call centre agents for three months. This will end on August 31 this year.

The minister said the BPO task force which he chairs, approved new protocols developed by the Ministry of Health and Wellness that will govern operations within the sector going forward.

These include measures related to sanitary and hygiene practices, which must be adhered to at all facilities; furnishings and equipment; social distancing, risk reduction, transportation, ventilation, the handling of persons who are ill, the wearing of masks, among others.

Inspections are undertaken by the public health inspectors using the BPO inspection tool and the public health institutional health inspection form that has been developed with a view to minimizing the risk of transmission.

Meanwhile, Vaz said the growth trajectory for the sector pre-COVID was 5,000 to 6,000 jobs per year.

“It has been highlighted that we can experience a return to this trajectory if the conditions such as training, promotion, policy and health guidelines are adhered to and if we work to secure new business and/or scale-up existing business,” said Vaz.

“All being equal, we expect to see a rebound in the sector by the end of the 2021 fiscal year, with a move towards the original projection of 50,000 jobs by March 2022,” he added.

Despite the optimism, Vaz said the Global Services Association of Jamaica (GSAJ) has indicated that growth will be contingent upon the recovery of the United States, which is Jamaica’s main market.

He said there is a proposal for about 20 to 30 per cent of the Global Services Sector workforce to be supported in a virtual Special Economic Zone. A specific proposal is expected to be advanced by the GSAJ for this development.

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