Back-to-office order wins business groups’ support | Inquirer Business

Back-to-office order wins business groups’ support

/ 04:35 AM March 22, 2022

Some of the country’s biggest business groups, including top property developers, have backed the government’s criticized directive to end work-from-home (WFH) arrangements, citing the need to rekindle economic activity as a “a key milestone toward the country’s journey to post-pandemic normalcy.”

In a statement, the business groups said among those most adversely affected by the predominant WFH setup in the past two years were the micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), which retained just a fraction of the 5.38 million jobs nationwide across all segments in 2020.


With the vaccination rate in Metro Manila now at 70.4 percent and nationwide at 57.1 percent and with new COVID cases at very low levels, the groups welcomed the current alert level 1 that allows unrestricted mobility and establishments to enjoy full capacity.

“We now look forward to heightened business activity, which will benefit the entire nation and spur its return to economic wellness. The path to recovery, we aver, begins with the presence in the business and commercial centers of our country’s workers,” the group said.


Physical offices

The mandate to return to physical offices after two years of COVID-19 pandemic-related lockdowns especially affects the IT-business process outsourcing (BPO) firms registered with the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (Peza), as they stand to lose their fiscal incentives if they do not comply with the order to repopulate their offices starting April 1. Among the signatories to the statement issued on Monday were top executives of the country’s largest property firms —SM Prime Holdings, Ayala Land, Megaworld Corp. and Robinsons Land Corp.

Economic momentum

Also represented were top business groups such as the Chamber of Real Estate and Builders’ Association Inc., Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines, Go Negosyo, Management Association of the Philippines, Philippine Constructors Association Inc., Philippine Retailers Association, Philippine Chamber of Commerce and restaurant association Resto PH.

“Economic momentum has been established and we are now within easier reach of the prosperity we all enjoyed in 2019,” they said.

The Fiscal Incentives Review Board has directed the IT-BPO to start exclusively operating within Peza-designated IT zones by April 1 this year. This will end a two-year concession to keep 90 percent of staff under WFH mode and still retain their fiscal incentives. The Peza, for its part, is sympathetic to the IT-BPO’s cause and had been pushing for the extension of the pandemic WFH arrangement until Sept. 12 this year but to no avail.

The business groups encouraged the public to venture out of their homes to contribute to the well-being of the economy, while still maintaining safety protocols.

As employees return to the business centers, the groups also hope that confidence nationwide will improve and help restore tourism and other allied industries. At least 1.1 million tourism workers have been displaced by the pandemic.

They cited other studies estimating that in 2020 alone—the year when the pandemic broke out — 423,075 construction workers or 10 percent of those employed by the industry in 2019 had been affected. Similarly battered were: 464,841 accommodation and food service employees (24 percent of those employed in 2019); 492,067 transportation and storage workers (14 percent of those employed in 2019).


The collective also noted that firms in Cebu and other cities affected by Typhoon Odette had realized that WFH arrangements were not for all and were meant to be a temporary measure.

Without the backup and emergency systems found in business and commercial centers, these firms suffered significant losses due to power and water outages.

“Fully occupied business districts and commercial centers indeed represent a welcome and collective milestone for the country,” the group added.

BPO, a key driver of the Philippine economy, grew revenues by 1.4 percent to $26.7 billion in 2020 despite the hard lockdowns as the industry shifted to WFH mode. It also expanded headcount by 1.8 percent.

In 2021, industry revenues grew by 12 percent to $28.8 billion while headcount expanded by 8 percent to 1.4 million workers.

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