The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Enter union, in call centres

New Delhi, July 25: Trade unionism is entering the infotech bastion, reaching out to the low-wage sweatshops that business process outsourcing (BPO) outfits have become.

The global Union Network International has launched a new organisation that targets workers in Indian back-offices. The Centre for Business Process Outsourcing Professionals has been launched in Hyderabad and Bangalore and will be formally registered in August.

The centre has already begun talks with BPO outfits in Noida, Chennai, Mumbai and Pune. The organisation claims to have about 200 members and expects its ranks to swell to more than 5,000 by year-end.

The rise of a trade union in BPO space has spooked the industry, which has already been under fire in the US and Europe for spiriting away jobs to the sub-continent. Experts fear this could kill the BPO boom in the country, which even the powerful India-bashing lobby in the US has not managed.

“This is bad news for the sector,” said Pavan Duggal, a senior cyber law expert and Supreme Court advocate.

“Over the last few years, the BPO segment has emerged as a major foreign exchange earner. Growing trade unionism will kill this industry.”

The centre does not term itself a union, but its mandate is not much different. “We are not a union; it is an old word, we are a forum. However, we will take up issues that need to be addressed to ensure the well-being of the workers,” centre chairman J.S.R. Prasad said.

The centre will be registered as a forum affiliated to the Union Network International, linked to the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions. Major Indian trade unions are members of the latter, which will make the centre another union.

“The BPO industry is unregulated and has many problems. The managements do not take care of the workers’ health or fix proper working hours. There is no job security,” Prasad said.

“We have already had discussions with the managements of HSBC and GE to constitute the forum to take care of BPO employees. There has not been any major progress. But once we are registered, we will carry the discussions further,” he added.

Salary structure, job security and the future of workers in an organisation are on the agenda.

“We will examine issues like lowering the high attrition rate in the BPO industry,” Prasad said. The industry’s attrition rate is 45 per cent.

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