Monday, August 18, 2008

America's Shiny New Slave Ships

Call centres housed in swanky glass towers may represent the new face of 21st-century India, but the labour practices they follow belong to the 19th century.

Though business process outsourcing (BPO) companies are projected as promoters of innovation, flexibility and freedom at workplace, they are actually quite inflexible, eroding even basic rights at work. This is the finding of the first major study of labour practices in Indian call centres.

The BPO industry in India currently employs 350,000 workers, according to the trade body Nasscom.

Superior work environment, the use of latest technologies, higher salaries compared to the manufacturing sector, fancy designations, smart and young peer workers — all these make young employees believe that the job they are doing is of an executive or a professional in a multinational-like environment.

But the organisational structure of call centres is basically 'dualistic' — consisting of a core or permanent set of employees and ‘periphery’ or non-permanent workers. All call-centre agents are periphery workers, who are easily substitutable, while team leaders and managers make up the core group.

This is similar to the popular model of work organisations followed in 1980s, the study done by the V.V. Giri National Institute of Labour pointed out. The institute is an autonomous body working under the Labour Ministry. The dualistic workforce model allows firms to regulate the workforce and nip in the bud any signs of collectivism.

The labour practices call centres follow are even much older. Take, for instance, the monitoring of workers at the workplace. 'Work is monitored on the spot and after working hours with the help of specially designed software, computer network and closed circuit cameras,' the study says.

The degree of surveillance required at work is even comparable with the situations of 19th century prisons or Roman slave ships.

In addition, all interactions among employees in office are continuously recorded or taped, and randomly checked by the team leader or manager. Mistakes in work lead to immediate warnings and they are recorded in 'warning cards' that form part of the daily ratings of agents. If an employee commits three errors in a day, he or she is warned and gets zero in his or her daily rating. Three consecutive zeros lead to counselling or even dismissal ...

Source - Hindustan Times


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