Rethink of off-site work cap on Peza firms urged
As the recent resurgence of COVID-19 cases in the country constrains the return of businesses to physical offices, the government must consider extending the work-from-home (WFH) flexibility granted to business process outsourcing firms registered with the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (Peza).
The spread of the more contagious Omicron COVID-19 variant will require officials and business leaders to reimplement and recalibrate restrictions to keep the workplace safe with minimum disruption to businesses, property consulting firm Colliers said in a commentary on Friday.
“The threat of business disruption can be mitigated by implementing and complying with protocols that can arrest the surge of cases and protect workers. As seen throughout the pandemic, officials and business leaders continue to find ways to balance keeping the workplace safe while ensuring business continuity. Several companies continue to provide flexibility for their employees, such as allowing them to work from home, especially during case surges,” said Kevin Jara, associate director of office services and tenant representation at Colliers.
In the case of the IT-BPM (business process management) sector, many occupiers are registered with the Peza, which had issued memorandum circulars allowing registered business enterprises (RBE) to conduct their business activities outside the ecozones.
“If not for this ongoing surge, many RBEs may have already started back-to-work [initiatives] in the first quarter of 2022,” said Jara. “Therefore, the government should consider extending the WFH flexibility until such time that the RBEs feel confident with the health and safety of their employees.”
Colliers encouraged the government to develop policies that would balance the various needs of office landlords and tenants.
“Mutual support and collaboration between government agencies and the private sector will remain crucial to economic recovery and growth,” said Jara.
Existing government regulations allow RBEs to continue their WFH arrangement without losing their fiscal incentives until March 31.
From Sept. 13, 2021, to Dec. 31, 2021, the total number of employees allowed to be under WFH arrangement was capped at 90 percent of total workforce. For Peza-registered IT enterprises, this is being implemented on a per-site basis.
This year, the total number of employees under WFH arrangement is not allowed to exceed 75 percent.
If the state of calamity under Presidential Proclamation No. 1021 would be extended beyond the original Jan. 1, 2022 deadline, the threshold would be maintained at 90 percent until March 31. Revenue from export will be maintained and there will be no reduction of workforce despite these firms having majority of their employees under the WFH arrangement.
Two years into the pandemic—and now with a wide vaccination coverage and administration of booster shots—Colliers sees the Philippines to be in a good position to overcome the Omicron wave, hopefully with less severe health outcomes and business disruptions.
Colliers also urged the government and the private sector to continue working closely to encourage Filipinos to get vaccinated and receive booster shots. This is seen to prevent the country’s health-care system from being overwhelmed and allow the reopening of the economy to continue.
“These measures, alongside basic public health practices such as masking, good ventilation, and social distancing, will mitigate the worst COVID-19 outcomes, keep our workplaces safe, and ensure business continuity as the world transitions to living with the virus,” Colliers said.
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