As one of Belize’s fastest growing industries, business process outsourcing, has handed thousands of Belizeans jobs responding to customer concerns for many businesses, chiefly from the United States.
But as with any business there are growing pains and on Thursday about 30 employees of a relatively new BPO start-up, Accutel BPO, are without jobs.
The company began in May and hired its first workers in September, to act as agents to respond to campaign contracts obtained from U.S. companies.
But the main owner of the company, Emory Castillo from Belmopan, has shut down the outfit, and his employees say he has not met their final payments.
We spoke to one of them off-camera.
Female Accutel Worker
“The issue is that our boss, Mister Emory Castillo, made an arrangement with us. He opened a business, we were hired on the fifth of September, and on the twenty-seventh of October, he told us that we were not supposed to come in at work. So we were on standby basically.
We waited, time passed, and he told us no work until further notice.
Then on the thirty-first we were supposed to be paid, but he made a promise with us, telling us that he cuuldn’t pay us until the third, the latest. So we told him okay, no problem.
On the fourth, he came to us, telling us that we had to wait until Friday. He didn’t have the money. He had to sell his house and lot. So when he finally paid us, we got our two weeks pay, and he told us that the business was closed down.
We didn’t get any kind of letter stating that we were terminated. We went to Labour [Department] trying to figure it out, but basically he owes us four week pay at this time, and we want to know how we can get our money from him.”
We got a response from Emory Castillo via telephone on Thursday afternoon, and he indicated that as far as he was aware, all payments to the employees had been met. He plans, after several weeks of not being able to meet face-to-face, to sit down with employees by Friday afternoon. He reserved further comment until then.
The company’s Information Technology Manager, who also spoke off-camera, says that Mr Castillo withheld Social Security payments on their behalf, despite deducting it from their pay.
Male Accutel Worker
“So the staff went to look into Social Security and Labour to find out what the situation was. He was taking social security deductions from us.
When we went to Social Security, we found out that there was no social security being paid.
We have a staff [member] that is on maternity leave, and the first case came up when she came and she went to Social Security to make a claim for maternity, and she couldn’t get any, because there was nothing registered.
That’s when everything spiralled out of control. So he said to us, and we have it on recording, because we recorded what he said in the meeting. He said yes, he took the social security payments from us, and he is going to pay it, but on the fifteen and he said, ‘I, Emory Castillo will take responsibility for it.’
So we asked him, I said ‘If we’re not working, we need to get terminated and paid off.’ So he said ‘No, we have a campaign to run.’ I, myself, was looking into two campaigns to run. But he said, ‘You know what. We’re not going to do anything, until we’ve been paid.’ “
The employees say this turn of events has hurt not only their financial standing, but also their job prospects.
One recent mother is unable to collect Social Security benefits after coming off maternity leave, because she does not have the required amount of contributions.
A check with the Companies Registry reveals their employment apparently no longer exists.
Emory Castillo confirmed with us that the company is indeed closed down, as his clients have not been paying him. He also indicated that the Social Security matter was being dealt with.
Another person who wants a word with Mr Castillo is Todd Ingram, the proprietor of Zeus International Business Center on Calle Al Mar, a physical office space for offshore companies doing business through the world and seeking to maintain compliance with regulations. Accutel bought the entire second floor of space and was the building’s only physical tenant. But according to Todd Ingram, Emory Castillo skipped out on the rent, which hurts his bottom line.
“They actually had an agreement with us to rent the second floor for their call center. So we accommodated them with 25 seats, as well as two private offices, a server room, [and] all the other facilities that you would expect in a service office environment.
Originally it started in May. They went through some financial hardships, campaign hardships. They moved over to another campaign. I think the ownership changed, so at that point we changed it to Accutel BPO, resigned the new contracts, stated that we’d step behind them for a couple of months, [and] give them some leeway to get their project off the ground. It never got off the ground, and we’re sitting here [with] the electricity bills, all the water bills, and all the maintenance bills.”
Todd Ingram says the company owes three months’ worth of rent for August, September and October, utility bills and other monies. He is waiting to see if the employees will be taken care of, before seeking what is owed to him.
The workers, meanwhile, are waiting to hear back from the Labour Department, after making formal complaints there, and will hear what their boss has to say for himself in the very near future.