Posted by: lrrp | April 8, 2008

Business Process Outsourcing – ‘Other side of the white-collar by Andrew Miller – Human Rights Watch

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
Management.

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
overseas.


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