Wednesday, February 10, 2010

BPO sector asked to address HIV in workplace

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February 9, 2010, 4:06pm
Manila Bulletin

Employers in business process outsourcing (BPO) sector were asked Tuesday to seriously tackle HIV/AIDS in the workplace after an increase in the number of positive HIV cases was noted among its workers.

Kabataan Party-list Rep. Raymond Palatino said that the BPO executives must face the matter with sensitivity in order not to alienate individuals in the workplace sick with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

“Instead of being irrationally defensive and trivializing the matter, BPO companies should face the problem and express collective concern given the work-related, unhealthy routine of their employees,’’ Palatino said in a statement.

“There is really a need to educate both the BPO workers and their employers.
Education and awareness is the resolution, not discrimination,’’ he said.

Palatino was reacting to a study conducted by the University of the Philippines Population Institute (UPPI) and the Department of Health-Philippine National AIDS Council (PNAC), which indicated an alarming HIV-prone lifestyle of some BPO workers.

The study showed that due to their environment and peer pressure, call center agents “tend to involve in risky sexual behaviors.’’

“More call center workers have early penetrative premarital sex and have had sex with same sex. Twenty percent of male call center agents are commercial sex workers while 14 percent of them give payment in exchange for sex,’’ the study said.

The study also revealed there are more call center agents who have a regular non-romantic sexual partner.

The study entitled: “Lifestyle and Reproductive Health Issues of Young Professionals in Metro Manila and Metro Cebu’’ was aimed at examining the economic, social and health status of young professionals less than 35 years old working at call centers and non-call centers.

It included 929 respondents from 35 BPO establishments, who have at least completed two years of college.

Authors of the study had underscored, however, that it is not safe to conclude that the higher prevalence of sexual risk behavior among call center workers can be attributed to working in the call centers.

But some BPO executives were too quick to justify the reported increase (in HIV among its workers), adding that they conduct HIV tests before hiring.

Palatino said the statements of the BPO executives were “discriminatory,’’ stressing that the HIV tests should be optional.

Citing Republic Act 8504 or the Philippine AIDS Prevention and Control Act of 1998, Palatino said "compulsory HIV testing shall be considered unlawful" and "discrimination, in all its forms and subtleties, against individuals with HIV or persons perceived or suspected of having HIV shall be considered inimical to individual and national interest.”

The party-list lawmaker said that BPO firms should use the study as a guide in seriously looking at the risky behavior of their workers.

In a related development, President Arroyo said that jobs in the BPO firms are expected to hit the one million mark within the year amid the continued growth of the industry.

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