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Sleepless in PHL: More Pinoys work the graveyard shift

(Updated 6:23 p.m.) As the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry in the Philippines continues to grow, more and more Filipinos are finding themselves working at odd hours, risking contracting sleep disorders, body pains, eye and voice problems. Graveyard shift work is not a new idea in the country. Many Filipinos – security guards, police and military on one end of the spectrum, and doctors and nurses at the other – have long been assigned to work night shift. Evidence, however, suggest a growing number of Filipinos are now working at night, partly due to expansion of BPO firms and availability of home-based jobs servicing clients overseas.   “The contact center industry is growing. Last year, we grew by 21 percent,” Contact Center Association of the Philippines (CCAP) executive director Joselito “Jojo” Uligan said by phone Thursday. Contact centers – essentially BPOs – are facilities used by companies to manage offshore work through mediums like e-mail, online live chats and telephone. “I wouldn't be surprised if there is a rise in night workers because of the growth rate of the industry and because our clients are from the US and other Western countries,” he added, noting the 12-hour difference between Manila and most US East Coast firms, which most Philippine BPOs service. Uligan told GMA News Online that some 70 to 80 percent of Filipinos employed at contact centers now work at graveyard shifts, or that period from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. The figure is higher than the International Labour Organisation (ILO)'s estimate of 42.6 percent of Filipino BPO employees working the night shift in 2010. The BPO sector has a labor force of 780,000 as of end-2012, with the sector seen to directly employ 1.3 million Filipinos by 2016. Moreover, more home-based online Filipino workers are also choosing to work at night, according to a report at GMA News TV's nightly news program “State of the Nation” or SoNA on Wednesday. SoNA cited a blog entry by New York University associate professor Panos Ipeirotis, which claimed that the Philippines could have the most online workers at night. Using data from oDesk — a California-based crowd sourcing website targeting clients that intend to hire and manage remote workers — Ipeirotis surmised that the number of Filipinos working by the hour does not go below 5,000 unlike other Top 7 outsourced countries like India and Bangladesh. “We see that the minimum for Philippines rarely drops below 5,000 active workers! All other countries (combined!) in their downtime time cannot beat Philippines in their low time. The supply of work is very constant over time,” Ipeirotis wrote on his blog. The NYU professor said he used oDesk because it provides contractor activity by the hour. Pros and cons There are perks to working the night shift – higher pay on the back of night differentials and as how some of Ipeirotis's readers put it, “we are more naturally inclined to work at night.” But these do come at a price. “[N]ight shift... is associated with occupational safety and health concerns, such as sleep disorders, fatigue, eye strain; neck, shoulder and back pains; and voice problems,” the ILO had said. CCAP's Uligan said BPO firms have efforts such as health and wellness programs to help their employees adapt to working the graveyard shift. “There are a lot of initiatives towards that end. Because without our people, our business won't exist. So we put focus on their well-being,” he said, referring to weight and stress management programs. Uligan, likewise, said better health benefits are usually given to night shift workers. For freelance workers, however, adopting a healthier lifestyle amid night work is again up to themselves.  — KBK, GMA News