Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) refers to the global delegation of IT-enabled business processes to a third party. As a union of IT and ITeS employees, we organise and fight for the rights of all BPO workers in India. BPO workers are highly skilled at sales, customer service, grievance redressal and communication. Recent changes in the industry have meant that BPO workers face increasing exploitation with adverse effects on health and well-being. Considering the prevalent conditions in our industry, we adopt the following demands for BPO workers’ rights:
1. Work hours:
a. Many of us work between 9 to 10 hours a day, which affects our mental and physical health. Even in cases where formally work hours are set at 8 hours a day, unrealistic daily targets mean that most of us work far longer than that. Work hours should be limited to 6 hours a day with no reduction in pay.
b. We are given only one hour a day as a break, including lunch time. Our washroom visits are also counted as break time and we get no respite in the rest of the day. Break times should not include washroom visits, and should be flexible – we should be able to take breaks when we require them the most.
c. Workers who are subject to changes in work shifts should have only a 5-day week, as changing sleeping patterns effectively erases the one day of leave such workers get.
Leave policies are often unclear and complicated. Leave policies should be consistent and clear.
3. Salary cycles
When we join a new organisation, the salary is only credited on the standard pay day – the salary for the days leading up to the first pay day is paid only right before we leave the organisation, and it is often withheld for spurious reasons. Salary cycles need to be fixed to eliminate these effectively unpaid days.
4. Work from home
Many of us have to pay for our own work-related equipment while working from home. The employer should cover the cost of work equipment.
a. Parameters for our incentives are decided based on situations that are not in our control. Product deficiencies or client inefficiencies affect our incentives. Incentives should be designed with employee/worker inputs.
b. Our performance metrics are designed in such a way that targets are impossible to achieve. As team performance improves, targets are increased. This is an unsustainable model of work. Targets should be set such that at least 50% of workers are able to achieve them in the designated time.
c. Those of us who work in text-based chat jobs have to keep two chats active at a time. Our performance suffers due to such conditions. Work should be rationalised in these conditions.
d. Our supervisors and team leaders misbehave with us because their own targets are unrealistic. Employees are made to compete with one another for retaining their jobs. Employers and clients should work together to set realistic targets for all categories of employees.
6. Paying for work facilities
a. We have to use a locker to keep our personal belongings in while working. We are forced to pay for the use of this locker. The employer should bear the costs of work-related expenses such as lockers.
b. We are forced to pay for parking although there are parking facilities available in our buildings. Often our employers have agreements with parking providers that do not benefit us. Parking should be provided for free by employers.
c. Often, those of us who work night shifts are made to pay double the rate of transportation as the day shift workers. This is because the rate includes the pay for the night guard. The cost of the night guard should be borne by employers.
7. Data collection
a. We are not told what kinds of data are collected based on our work, and how we are tracked. We are nevertheless aware that very granular data is collected about our work patterns. This data should be shared with us because it is created due to our activity, it is about us, and will help us understand our own work patterns and track violations of our rights. The mismatch in data access between us and our employers disadvantages us by creating an information asymmetry. Data collection practices should be entirely transparent, and our data should be shared with us as well.
b. The tracking of our work is often intrusive and deeply violative of our privacy. There should be a limit on the kind and extent of tracking mechanisms used.
8. Abuse and harassment at the workplace
A culture of misogyny, verbal and physical abuse has been normalised at our workplaces. Workers, particularly women, face abuse from superiors and from clients. Workers who report abuse are met with bullying and intimidation. There should be a Gender Sensitisation Committee Against Sexual Harassment set up in each office with external representation.
a. There are not enough washrooms in many of our offices. Women bear the brunt of this problem. Even during menstruation, workers’ washroom use is regulated and limited by supervisors and team leads. There should be adequate facilities in each office and period leave should be provided to all employees who need it.
b. Washrooms are segregated by seniority. Some washrooms are even password protected. All washrooms should be available to everyone in the work building at all times.
c. BPO work is particularly unfriendly to persons with disabilities. We are made to work like machines without breaks. A more accommodating work arrangement should be created to include all people.
d. The culture of abuse at BPOs ostracises those who are already marginalised on the basis of caste, religion, gender, sexuality, etc. There needs to be an overhaul of work culture for inclusivity.
e. Levels of education determine the rate of pay for the same kind of work. Discrimination based on education levels serves to divide the workforce along pre-existing societal faultlines, and should be stopped as a practice.
10. Rights of ancillary workers
Other workers at BPOs, such as sanitation workers, guards and canteen workers, are employed on the basis of precarious contracts. They face very high workloads and discrimination in access to work facilities such as washrooms and cafetarias. All workers should have similar access to facilities and job security.
We realise that our employers are subject to the vagaries of a competitive market. Clients demand impossible targets from our employers, threatening them with moving to another BPO, and creating a race to the bottom in terms of our rights. We understand that unless we stand united against the violation of our own rights, this dynamic cannot change. We bear the entire burden of customer satisfaction for millions of goods and services provided around the world.
As competition exists between employers, it also exists between nations in a world where capital can flow freely. There is thus a race to the bottom among different nations as well, in terms of eroding workers’ rights. We draw inspiration from struggles of tech and tech-enabled workers from all over the world, and recognise that international worker solidarity is vital to ensure our rights are protected and a better world for workers is built.
We demand freedom from being treated like machines; we demand joy in work; we demand enough time outside work for us to be engaged and active citizens. With worker unity, we are confident that we can bring these demands to life.
All India IT and ITeS Employees’ Union