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IT-BPO union to file PIL against 'extended' working hours
Bibhu Ranjan Mishra in Bangalore
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November 26, 2008 09:20 IST

The Indian arm of the Union for Information & Technology Enabled Services is planning to file a public interest litigation against the alleged 'arbitrary policy' of many Indian and multinational IT/ITeS firms in India who have, for the past two months, reportedly been enforcing longer working hours that violate the daily eight-hour working mandate of the Indian Factories Act, 1948.

UNITES, the country's first union in the IT-BPO sector, is affiliated to the Indian National Trade Union Congress. It claims to have around 10 per cent of the total IT-BPO workforce of 2 million as members, and said the numbers have been dramatically rising over the last two months on the back of lay-offs in the sector. The union is also part of Union Network International, which has over 16 million workers in 13 different sectors from 163 countries.

IT firms, on their part, insist that the Act is not being violated since IT workers have to work for 48 hours a week - eight hours daily for six days. However, since most IT firms have a five-day working week, they work longer hours, hence the misconception.

But some IT-BPO employees and UNITES are not buying the story. "The labour law in India allows an eight-hour working day, whereas in most IT companies in India people are involuntarily working for over 12 hours daily," R Karthik Shekhar, UNITES' secretary general for India told Business Standard.

He added that the increase of daily working hours from eight to almost 10 hours by Indian and multinational companies officially is "a double standard by the IT firms, who, on the one hand are firing people saying they are not getting enough work, and on the other hand, forcing employees to work more since they are getting more work".

He said UNITES has requested industry body Nasscom to step in to clarify the stance.

The IT sector in India was once the torchbearer of many best HR practices, including flexi-office hours.

However, the situation has changed on the back of a slowing economy. Global IT services firm Accenture, for instance, is reportedly planning to increase working hours by almost an hour with effect from January 1 next year. Infosys [Get Quote], India's second-largest IT exporter, too, has asked its employees' to strictly abide by the duty hours that the company has fixed as 9.15 hours a day on all working days. Wipro [Get Quote] also has stipulated 9.5 hours working hours a day, and is becoming much stricter in terms of timing.

On condition of anonymity, a team leader working with vCustomer, said: "In call centres people are used to long working hours. During peak season (December-January), they work even 14 hours a day. But now due to the ongoing crisis, expectation levels are very high. Performance is being monitored frequently."

A software engineer with Satyam [Get Quote] Computers, Hyderabad, added: "Earlier we could extend our project deliveries by a day or two. Now the management has mandated to deliver by the deadline otherwise it will be marked on performance sheet. Our performance is being evaluated every week. This was a norm from earlier times, but now the management is taking it seriously."

An engineer from Orange (which does IT and BPO support for the telecom major), concurred, "Besides the long working hours, cost cutting measures are worrying us, and the company has started ferrying seven people in a cab against five earlier."

An account manager placed with Barclays in Noida, said "The insecurity level is very high. Quality parameters have been raised and everything is monitored very closely, they are marking us down wherever they can."

Shekhar alleges that most IT firms do not display a "standing order" (regarding the eight-hour duty), which is certified by the labour department, on a notice board at the entrance of every firm. Instead, they have the order posted on the company's Intranet.

"I believe stressing on increased input is always a mistake - the industry needs to focus on more productivity and value creation on the output side," said Ganesh Natarajan, Chairman, Nasscom, when contacted. He, however, did not comment on whether Nasscom would be working on fixing a limit on daily working hours for companies.

"The IT industry in India still follows the best practices it had introduced earlier. But this does not mean employees will work less. If they are being asked to stick to duty hours, this will increase the productivity," explained Infosys Technologies HR head TV Mohandas Pai.

"Besides," he added, "they are also being paid well to work hard. These are difficult times and if they don't work hard then there will not be any industry left in coming days."

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