CEBU CITY -- Call center agents earn more than most of their peers in other industries, but some may pay for it with abnormal sleeping habits, habitual drinking, illegal drug use, and risky sexual activities, a recent study said.
The study, by the University of the Philippines Population Institute (UPPI), reported that some call center agents in Metro Cebu and Metro Manila do earn more and get better benefits than non-call center workers.
However, some of them face higher health risks.
The study, conducted by an eight-member group led by Dr. Maria Midea Kabamalan, was presented Friday in this city.
The Population Commission (Popcom) funded the study, "The Lifestyle and Reproductive Health Issues of Young Professionals in Cebu and Metro Manila."
It sought to examine the profile of workers in call centers and other establishments, and compare their lifestyles, health and reproductive health status.
At least 929 respondents participated. They belong to the 18-34 age group and had at least two years of college education. An equal number of male and female respondents participated.
The study revealed that call center workers are more sexually active than other workers, but only minority have been tested for the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which causes Aids.
Twenty percent of the male respondents and eight percent of the females told researchers they have been tested for HIV.
But 50 percent of the male agents and 36 percent of the females said they are willing to undergo HIV tests.
The survey results were reported on the heels of a Department of Health report about an "alarming" increase in HIV cases in the country, with 709 new cases reported from January to October 2009.
In April 2008, Sun.Star Cebu published a special report by some University of the Philippines students who interviewed some call center workers about lifestyle changes like illegal drug use, casual sex, and pregnancies out of wedlock.
The new study revealed that Cebu's call center workers earn less than Manila-based counterparts, but more than those who don't work in call centers.
"They earn so much than non-call center workers that most of them support their parents and siblings, but are still able to save a part of their income regularly," said Dr. Josefina Natividad of the UPPI research team.
Compared to Manila-based call center workers, Cebu-based call center workers, in general, have more benefits.
These include life insurance, meal allowances, rice allowance, incentives, dental and medical insurance.
Cebu-based call center agents also reported receiving extra benefits like free travel (31 percent), hazard pay (56 percent), and commissions (81 percent).
Natividad said the government should examine the high prevalence of premarital sex and "risky sexual activities" among call center agents.
But she added that other young professionals who don't work in call centers need to be studied as well.
The research team reported that regardless of gender, 65 percent of the call center agents surveyed have sex, compared to 53 percent among non-call center agents.
At least three out of 10 (34 percent) of the male call center agents reported having unprotected sex, compared to 19 percent of the females.
Four out of 10 male respondents, whether working in call centers or not, reported having sex with multiple partners.
Eighteen percent of the male call center agents told researchers they have regular sex with a partner they have no romantic feelings for ("f-k buddies"). Eleven percent of the females reported the same practice.
The researchers reported that on average, call center workers get 6.2 hours of sleep per day, compared to non-call center workers who averaged 6.5 hours of sleep.
They added that 45 percent of call center workers (regardless of sex) reported having problems falling asleep.
The researchers noted that two-thirds of these young workers drink coffee daily, with call center workers drinking more coffee (2.3 cups) than non-call center workers (1.7 cups).
Half of the respondents drink soda daily, with an average of 1.5 bottles per day, while 15 percent reported they drink energy drinks daily.
Less than half (47 percent) of call center workers regularly eat three meals a day. More female call center workers skip meals, with 40 percent skipping breakfast, 20 percent skipping lunch, and 16 percent skipping dinner.
In general, there is a high level consumption of chips, burgers, fries and fried chicken among call center and non-call center workers. But in Cebu, the survey showed, call center agents reported lower consumption of these food items compared to Manila-based agents.
The study also reported that 43 percent of call center workers in Cebu and the National Capital Region smoke, a larger part of the population than the smokers among those who work elsewhere.
Cebu-based call center workers consume one cigarette during office breaks, compared with Manila-based call center workers who average 1.2 sticks.
At least 85 percent of call center workers confirmed they regularly consume alcohol, compared to 87 percent of non-call center workers.
The survey also noted that 11 percent of call center workers used drugs in the past six months, with marijuana as the most common substance, followed by shabu.
Sixty-one percent of the Cebu respondents confirmed they tried using shabu, compared to 29 percent of Manila-based call center workers.
Popcom-Central Visayas Director Leo Rama said the study should open the eyes of local officials, amid efforts to promote Cebu as a business process outsourcing (BPO) hub in the country.
"This is just the first study, but more studies will be conducted that may assist the BPO industry, which is growing," said Rama. (JKV of Sun.Star Cebu)