Every public holiday costs the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) sector an additional $632,000, President of the BPO Association Nubia Ramirez told The Reporter Thursday.
According to Ramirez, the association—which represents roughly 90 percent of an industry that employs about 8,000 persons across about 30 firms—has serious concerns with the government’s practice of arbitrarily announcing new holidays that do not fall within the standard schedule of holidays.
“The calendar of annual holidays should be clear from the beginning of the year,” Ramirez shared. “It cannot be something that the Government decides on their own at any given time as has been happening [over the years].”
Ramirez added that the ad hoc additions create disruptions and force adjustments in operations. It even impacts scheduled training days. Furthermore, apart from the direct payroll cost increases, Ramirez explained that the loss of revenue for the day must also be weighed. “There is the loss of revenue due to higher absenteeism on holidays, as well as salary payments for persons who do not show up to work on holidays but are still due payments.”
The BPO Association’s comments follow the impromptu Monday, September 19th, holiday held in observance of Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral. Given that the formal announcement was made on Wednesday, September 14th, the business community had less than one week to prepare for the additional direct and indirect costs associated with public and bank holidays.
Belize has 14 scheduled holidays. At minimum, according to the numbers provided by the association, these cost the industry close to $8.85 million per year, on average. The addition of the September 19th holiday pushed up that total cost to $9.5 million, an estimated seven percent increase.
For its part, the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) had written to the government to request that the unplanned day off not carry with it the overtime rate that is conventionally applied on holidays.
In the BCCI’s letter, dated September 14th, BCCI President Marcello Blake pointed out that while the business support organization accepts the Government's decision to observe the day as a public and bank holiday, the "unplanned" holiday presents significant cost implications for businesses that must operate on the aforementioned date.
Blake explained that the "abruptness" of the announcement is likely to catch employers off guard as it would propel them into having to meet unbudgeted payroll costs during a time when most businesses are still in recovery mode.
Citing section 119 of the Labour Act, Blake called on the government to exempt the one-time holiday from carrying the overtime rate. The government, however, responded by saying the time was too short to convene the appropriate bodies to grant the requested exemption.
Last Thursday, following the government’s response, the Chamber, writing to their members, reiterated that since early 2021 they have requested several commitments from the government as it pertains to adding new holidays.
According to the BCCI, one such measure is a recommendation that no newly enacted public holiday should carry payroll implications on an employer until after a prescribed notice period of at least 365 days.
As was previously mentioned, the September 19th holiday provided less than a week’s notice, for which the BPO sector’s employers had to incur more than half a million dollars in unplanned expenditure.
As it currently stands, section 119 of the Labour Act currently exempts the application of sections 115 to 118—which includes the provisions for overtime for public holidays—for select sectors and positions.