The Jamaica government has ordered all BPOs operating in the country to close their centers for 14 days starting tomorrow, in the latest bid to halt the spread of the coronavirus.
The order comes after dozens of employees at Alorica’s call center in Portmore, St. Catherine, tested positive for the virus. “We fully understand the role BPOs play in employing many Jamaicans, but the health and welfare of the people of Jamaica take precedence over everything else at this time during the COVID-19 crisis,” stated Prime Minister Andrew Holness in his decree on Monday. The country has reported just over 220 cases of COVID infection, with five fatalities.
Barely a week ago, the Prime Minister had issued social distancing guidelines exclusively for the BPO industry, urging call centers to conduct temperature checks on each employee and ban agents from sharing headsets with colleagues. Holeness also directed providers to place a hand sanitizer at the entrance of each workstation, lunchroom, and recreation area, and disinfect the entire campus at least twice a day.
Following this order, all BPOs in the St. Catherine area, including Alorica, had been closed. Call centers elsewhere in the country were directed to institute precautions, like seating employees at least six feet apart.The rising number of COVID-19 cases however became a more serious concern over the weekend as cases increased at Alorica. A few days earlier Sutherland Global Services elected to close its South Camp Road after a new coronavirus case was identified at that location.
Critical Guidelines for Jamaica BPOs
In its decree, the government has made it clear that it will allow the BPOs to continue processing “certain critical” services. But it is not clear whether the call centers providing critical customer services to healthcare clients will be allowed to remain operational.
.Jamaica’s investment promotion agency, JAMPRO, has stated in an email response that the decision to suspend the operations temporarily was taken following a meeting between government officials and BPO stakeholders.
“Companies serving the Travel, Banking and Logistics sectors will continue to service clients with some employees operating under strict distancing guidelines and closely monitored by the Ministry of Health,” the agency added.
Despite the curfew, call center agents can continue working remotely in their homes. The Prime Minister has stated that more than 13,000 BPO employees are currently working at home. However, Jamaica BPOs in the Caribbean country employ over 40,000 people.
“As you can imagine, this is a tough time for many of the BPO companies, but we believe they understand the severity of the pandemic and are seeing how best to adjust given the new restrictions in place,” JAMPRO added.
Alorica: A Victim of the Pandemic
With more than 700 workers, Alorica’s Portmore center is one of the larger delivery centers in the country. Alorica acquired West Corporation in 2015, and with that acquisition came the West Jamaica operation which had first been established 12 years earlier.
The challenges faced by Alorica have spurred a wide range of dubious claims and accusations in social media, putting the company in a negative light as it attempts to manage the crisis. “We note with regret that at this time there are malicious rumours and misstatements circulating in social media about Alorica. These lies put the safety and security of our team members at risk,” the company said in a statement released today.
The statement went further to say: “We will work closely with the Jamaican Government, Ministry of Health & Wellness, and other key stakeholders to ensure compliance and continued action in the best interest of our employees and the country. We believe that together as a strong Jamaican community, we are resilient and shall overcome the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
In its statement to Nearshore Americas, JAMPRO commented the responsiveness of providers. “The key lessons learned include flexibility and open transparent dialogue which has allowed the sector to address issues quickly with the Government. Ideas such as enabling Work from Home were quickly facilitated by the Government and the Special Economic Zone Authority.”