Local Call Center Workers: Re-Location, Domestication and an Angry Workers’ Report

Short article on a rather dubious ‘technological fix’ for the Gurgaon call centre industry and an angry worker’s report from Sparsh BPO about working conditions, a strike and mass lay offs.

The Technological Fix

Finally an end to expensive office blocks and mingling of sexes: modern technology is supposed to enable ‘housewives’ to do the call centre job from their domestic sphere. “With just one laptop or desktop computer with internet and a phone connections, people could operate from their rooms, attend to inbound calls that otherwise land at the call centre. With this, housewives, who would never otherwise dream of joining a BPO, would be able to take jobs and do it from their homes,” said Mike Manson, director of the ‘innovative company’. “Virtualisation of voice technology would help setting up of one-seater or 3-5 seater micro BPOs in tier 3 and 4 cities from where the BPO companies are drawing talent pool,” said Sriram Srinivas, vice-president. “This would not only benefit the employee to save on overheads such as rentals and high cost of living in metros like Gurgaon but also helps the company reduce cost on things such as employee transportation expenses.” Experiences in the US and Western Europe taught us that even in call centres capitalist production is still mainly a ‘socially enforced’ type of productivity: despite rent costs the mass office is still more productive due to mass cooperation, flow of creativity, discipline and surveillance.

The Angry Worker

Sparsh BPO Service Worker
(409 Udyog Vihar Phase 3)
“We currently operate through 20 state-of-the art facilities across nine locations in India. Our dedicated workforce of over 16,000 motivated professionals provide qualitative solutions in the areas of transaction processing and call centre services, aiming to achieve excellence in every transaction.”
(from company web-site: http://www.sparshindia.com/)
The call centre is in a 12-floor building, several thousand workers are on the phone 24 hours on three shifts, phoning for BSNL, Airtel, Airsale, Reliance Com, Orient Bank of Commerce. For 26 working days per month they get 4,800 Rs. After 8-hours shift they are often made to stay two hours longer, which is not paid. The company does not pay for transport and those workers who use the ‘employee cabs’ have 1,000 Rs per month deducted from their wages. In addition 210 Rs is cut for PF and 80 Rs for ESI – but no ESI card is given. The food break is only 15 minutes – there are two 5 minutes breaks for tea. There is never enough time, but no matter what, you are supposed to work. You cannot make the customer wait, that’s what they say. Against this the workers stopped work at the end of March 2009, they stopped work for three days. They went inside the office, but they did not log in. The management reacted by smashing 4-5 computers and trying to blame the workers for it, saying that they will file a police case and send them to jail. Bit by bit they started to kick people out – in the end it must have been about 2,000 workers. Actually a lot of workers handed in their notice, but the company refused to take it – instead they said that the workers just left the job. After having worked there for more than two years I went to the office in order to make them sign my PF form. They just threw it away and said that I left the job without giving notice and that I won’t get the PF. The company keeps 200 workers for housekeeping. They work 12-hours shifts, 30 days per month and get only 4,887 Rs – no ESI and no PF. The company has another office at 195 Udyog Vihar Phase 1. There workers phone for Vodaphone, Shub Yatra, Bhartiy Jivan Bima Nigam and others.
(from: Faridabad Mazdoor Samachar no. 267)