Virtusa an IT Services BPO firm headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts with one
of the Advanced Technology Centers in Colombo has experienced another death
of an employee. This is the second death reported within last two years, though
there have been past reports of casualties who have survived strokes also known
as ‘brain attacks’.
The company employs over 1000 employees in it’s Advanced Technology Center
(ATC) in Colombo and provides a challenging environment at work due to strict
delivery deadlines demanded by US Clients. The company bills anything above
USD 150 man day for a basic resource for IT services to US Clients, though only
10-15% is passed to the employees. The balance of expenses before earnings per
share is incurred on maintaining a state-of-the-art Technology infrastructure and
remunerating a Sri Lankan based ATC management at US Standard – Salary,
Benefits and Perks.
The operational model demands at least 45 working hours per week, where
project managers have strict guidelines to ensure employee productivity. The
attitude towards employees has been disastrous in some cases; where in the past
over 120 employees have been laid off within few weeks. Directly or indirectly
forcing a permanent employee to resign at short notice from work has been a
specialty area at Virtusa for the last 4 years.
Virtusa continues to apply various techniques to hire-at-will, and fire-at-will.
Although the recruitment advertisements appearing Newspapers and websites
look very enticing, scant regard has been paid to the statutory requirements of
employing persons in Sri Lanka.
Some of the violations include manager-employee harassment and humiliation at
work, getting signatures on official documents under force and duress,
promotions and career success based on favoritism and acquaintance, and host of
other violation of mandatory local statutory requirements.
The 1000+ workforce in Sri Lanka of which 70% are below project manager level,
is hired from Universities in Sri Lanka. Virtusa conducts a well organized
recruitment drive and allocates a significant budget for this purpose. Sponsoring
at Career Fairs, Career Days etc. are some of the techniques proven to be
effective in attracting fresh graduates into the workforce. Most of them join with
promises given by the recruitment division which ranges from working abroad,
branded career start, corporate image, market leading remuneration etc.
Role Stretching is a practice at Virtusa where an employee is encouraged to play
the role of a senior person. The employee does not get any additional
compensation for this exercise, but they are expected to work even harder and
billed at a higher rate. The employee is given the expectation that, after playing
the ‘stretched’ role, they would be subject to an early promotion. But this is
hardly the truth, but only an enticement to work harder. There are several other
deceptive and crafty techniques to obtain higher productivity from an employee.
The workforce predominantly consists of workers between ages 22-38 years with
an average age of 30. Most of the workforce is from middle class families who
have limited influence in society to expose or take legal action against violations
committed by the more affluent Sri Lankan Management at Virtusa. Hence most
of them silently suffer until they are tactfully drained out of their soul and spirit.
Besides, any legal action against Virtusa could deprive an employee of a
respectable career, subsequently, due to possible retaliation by the Sri Lankan
Since BPO companies are on the increase in Sri Lanka, it would be prudent for the
statutory authorities of Sri Lanka to investigate and monitor the operation of BPO
companies particularly the level of compliance to Shops and Offices Act and the
Industrial Disputes Act. It would also be useful for International Human Rights
Organizations to monitor the level of treatment meted out to these white collar
workers and devise a channel to listen to any stories and experiences that are
worthy for investigation.
This article has been written in order to educate the plight of white collar workers
in a typical BPO organization, so as to influence maintaining of checks and
balances to ensure adherence to stringent statutory and Human Rights principles
in treating Sri Lankan intellectual segment when selling knowledge services