IT is India’s greatest and newest story, proof that anyone can make it here too if they set their minds to it. The reality, however, is a sweat shop in which thousands of aspiring youngsters wear away their youth making other people rich.

BY ARPIT PARASHAR
PHOTOGRAPHS BY SUNIL

We worked for free after all. All we lacked was professional work experience even though every worker did almost the same work day in and day out.

Sudesh Pathak, an IT professional at a leading software company based in Gurgaon, Delhi’s sub-city and Haryana’s IT hub, has switched jobs nine times in the past two years. Moving through jobs in the private sector is hardly surprising, and good workers always find better jobs. Pathak’s case is different. An engineering graduate from Meerut Institute of Technology (MIT), a private college in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh (UP), Pathak has been in the industry for four years. He graduated as a chemical engineer but couldn’t find a job in his area of expertise. His attempts to get a job in the Central or state governments failed. He then did what thousands of chemical engineers, mechanical engineers, civil engineers, aeronautical engineers, and others of their ilk do—find a job in the IT sector, a job that they didn’t train for in the four years of college.

To get into the IT sector, Pathak needed a new set of skills. He spent close to Rs2 lakh on training in the various kinds of software used for design, and then found a job in a company in Noida, an IT hub in UP, next to Delhi. His first job offered no salary, he was a trainee and the company decided there was no need to pay him. A year later, he was given a confirmation letter and a salary of Rs4,000 but loaded with more work, which often required him to stay in office more than 10 hours a day, with a 30-minute break for lunch, which was often reduced to 5-15 minutes. Three years after he first started earning, he now takes home Rs11,700 per month.

Pathak’s father works in a showroom in Meerut’s Abu Lane area. He wanted his some to be an engineer, and had invested almost all his life’s savings of Rs5 lakh and had also taken a loan from his employer. “I want to repay that amount to my father but have hardly been able to save over the years. Hopefully, some companies will open shop in Meerut and I will find a job in one of them. That will help me save money since I will stay at home,” says Pathak.

“My focus has been to move through as many jobs as possible since there is hardly anything concrete at most companies,” Pathak says. “I’ve moved through so many jobs only because of the excess workload and so little money to show as salary or savings. In most cases (when I shifted jobs) there was either no raise (compared to the previous job) or just a token raise of Rs500 or Rs1,000. But the job profile was raised and I had more responsibilities than in the previous job in all the companies.”

Pathak lives in a rented one-room flat which he shares with two other friends, also in the IT industry and in similar jobs. “It’s impossible to manage without sharing accommodation and other expenses in a city like Gurgaon where the cost of living is much higher than Meerut,” he says.

Pathak’s case will find a counterpart in the office of almost every major IT company in the Noida-Delhi-Gurgaon region. Hundreds of young people with graduate degrees join as back office workers and entry level IT employees and fuel India’s IT boom—which is expected to generate around $75-77 billion in revenues this year—at throwaway salaries or no pay every day.

Usually from lower middle class families, these youngsters come with basic training in software from the hundreds of training institutes spread across north Indian towns, with dreams of being part of the Indian IT industry.
For most, the final destination is Infosys, Wipro or TCS, India’s IT giants which have a home-grown base and are the quintessential middle-class success stories. Pathak too wishes to join one of these companies because they “pay well and treat the employee well”.

His roommate Ravinder Yadav, from Rewari in southern Haryana, also a software professional, wants a job in one of these companies. Both have appeared for at least three interviews for major Indian companies but failed till now.

At the training institute Pathak learnt to use basic web design applications like AutoCad, used by a majority of the small IT companies across India. He was promised a placement, and was put in a company where he was one among the 19 other employees. “Most of the work related to basic designing or data entry. Workers just designed various parts of a particular website and entered all the data provided to us by the company which had outsourced its work to us.” Through the year, he says, some salaried people were asked to leave as there had been a downward turn in the industry during 2008-2009 but none of the trainees were fired.

“We worked for free after all. All we lacked was professional work experience even though every worker did almost the same work day in and day out”. The more “efficient” he grew, the more work he was given. A year after joining he was made permanent. Eighteen months after he started, he got his first pay cheque.

“ Hundreds of young people with graduate degrees join and fuel India’s India’s IT boom—which is expected to generate around $75-77 billion in revenues this year—at throwaway salaries or no pay. Usually from lower middle class families, these youngsters come with basic training in software from the hundreds of training institutes spread across north Indian towns

Today he lives in constant fear of the sack because he is a “senior” worker. His fear has to do with his salary. The Rs11,700 that he earns after four years in the industry is more than that of most of his co-workers. The people that he leads are trainees who are not paid or paid Rs3,000-Rs5,000 per month based on their experience. “My salary is worth the salary of four workers with experience of a year or more. The company might decide to fire me any day.”

People like Pathak and Yadav have often been described as “cyber coolies”, who form the bulk of India’s IT industry and are exploited due to lack of stringent laws that govern the sector. Most of them are data entry operators, which means they need basic software skills to perform tedious jobs that bigger companies want done at cheap prices. Many of these companies give their profiles a fancy tag of Knowledge Process Outsourcing (KPO), a rehashed version of Business Process Outsourcing (BPO), the sector which led India’s IT boom in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

The companies that specialise in data entry services offer bigger companies in India or in offshore markets the lure of saving at least 50 per cent of their costs by outsourcing jobs like entry of employees’ details, payroll data, medical data and various other reports, administrative data, credit and collection data, etc. These companies also offer the bigger players the option of saving costs by keeping the strength of their employees at a bare minimum and getting work done by giving out contracts to the smaller companies.

What keeps the data entry companies going is demand from across the spectrum, with firms dealing with financial and legal issues to the hospitals and even the software firms contracting jobs.

Companies have mushroomed even in relatively smaller centres like Chandigarh, making the competition ever tougher. There is a constant pressure to keep costs low and this results in exploitation of workers.

Joy Ghosh, who led a team at one such company before quitting to open his own firm, whose name he does not want to reveal, says, “Most workers come from small towns or have a basic education. They undergo basic training by paying hefty fees at some training institute or come as freshers and are trained on-the-job. It is easy to get them to work for small amounts, which helps the company reduce its costs and improve efficiency by hiring more and more such workers. It has now become the norm across the industry.”

When it comes to the basic data entry services, not much training is needed. However, companies insist that employees be graduates, just being computer literate is not enough. Most of the work is done on spreadsheets like Microsoft Excel. A good number of the workers in such companies are women, says Ghosh, since they mostly agree to work on low wages. “They are also good at putting in the extra work required when deadlines are to be met,” says Ghosh.

Manjula Verma (30) who works at a firm run from a residential apartment in the Majnu Ka Tila area in Delhi, says her company does not even provide cab services at night and that her husband has to pick her up every day after work. She wants to continue with the job because it provides them with a little extra every month. “Rs6,000 is extremely low (as salary) compared to the hard work that I put in every day but it is tough to find a job in any other field, since I have been here for three years. At any other company I will only be taken as a fresher. This would mean that my salary will remain around the same as now,” she says.

Ghosh says hundreds of women like Verma work in the industry and are a better bet for employers since they also choose to not switch jobs too often.

Hundreds of such companies are housed in small office spaces crammed with computer systems in as little space as possible. One of the hubs of such companies is in the Majnu Ka Tila area, where small flats house many firms.

A typical “IT firm” in Majnu Ka Tila area is in a two-room flat with at least 15 people firing away for 8-10 hours every day. The bigger of the two rooms houses the computer systems while the smaller one is where the boss and the senior workers sit. The one toilet in the house is shared by all the employees and the kitchen serves as the mini-canteen-cum-dining area. Many of these apartments, built flouting most building regulations, are dingy places with narrow staircases and smaller rooms—some even use studio apartments to accommodate extra staff.

While it is illegal to run a commercial enterprise from residential areas in Delhi, these colonies hardly have functioning Residents Welfare Associations (RWAs) to take up the matter with the authorities. Also, the owners encourage such companies to hire their flats since the rent is much higher than what the apartment would fetch them if it was used as a residential dwelling.

In some cases, companies buy two or three flats on one of the floors and run their offices from the spaces, thereby reducing the costs further. Most of these flats were built in an unauthorised manner on government land but the colonies were later regularised by the government of Delhi. Today the areas also house small slums in the vicinity.
Complex data entry services are more diverse in nature. They range from web designing to making maps for companies dealing with global information systems, and from software design to designing clothes. Most of these companies require trained IT professionals with engineering backgrounds or with training in computer applications, i.e. with a Bachelors degree or, preferably, a Masters degree in Computer Applications (BCA or MCA).

With the opening up of the education sector and encouraged by the so-called boom in the IT sector hundreds of colleges have come up in the north Indian states, which keep up a steady supply of quality professionals.

However, the boom in education has beaten the IT boom by a big margin over the past 7-10 years with a new college coming up almost every day in and around the National Capital Region (NCR). Nowhere is it as visible as in western UP, especially the districts of Gautam Budh Nagar (Noida and Greater Noida), Ghaziabad and Meerut; and in Haryana.

The 100 kilometre stretch of National Highway 58 that runs through the districts of Ghaziabad and Meerut, the stretch along National Highway 24 from Delhi to Hapur in Ghaziabad district, and the Knowledge Parks and other areas marked for educational institutions in Noida and Greater Noida are home to close to 200 colleges that offer engineering and other technical courses. With thousands of students graduating every year, the market is constantly bombarded by fresh graduates whom the industry can never fully absorb.

A. K. Naudiyal, who taught engineering students at the A K Garg Institute of Engineering and Technology, which lies on NH24 in Ghaziabad, before opening his own coaching centre for aspirants to the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT), says that while the best from a college are usually absorbed, the average struggle for jobs.

He says that the pattern of education in UP under the Uttar Pradesh Technical University (UPTU) and in other states is also such that the companies always have to train the students they hire in their in-house softwares or some other software used by professionals across the world.

“As a result they look specifically for bright students whose scores are in the top 50-100 from each college. This decreases the chances of others of landing decent jobs during campus placements. These students then choose specialised IT courses in order to better their profiles and increase their chances of landing a job,” he says.

For example, the .Net platform for designing websites is taught to students at college and so most students come out with the same skill set. The smaller companies, however, have increasingly shifted to the .php platform since it is an open source platform.

“While .Net is licensed by Microsoft since it is their product, the .php is used on Linux operating software, which too is free to download and use, unlike the Microsoft Windows operating softwares,” Naudiyal points out.

So these students are forced to diversify into .php and undergo training, which keeps the small technical training institutes running and helps them make profits. Many of these institutes assure their students of jobs, which is a big lure for students who do not find jobs during campus placements.

This is where the IT industry’s dark side opens up, says Naudiyal. “Because these students are desperate to find work, they are also open to exploitation,” he says. The data entry or small-scale software design companies make deals with such institutes and take in students as trainees, mostly without any pay. The “ordeal”, says Naudiyal, only begins for the student when they join the companies where they are placed through these institutes.

Across the companies in data entry and software design the trend of paying trainees a bare minimum salary or no salary at all is common. The rigorous schedule makes data entry workers look like “typing robots” who usually copy data from one level to other. With a rigorous level of accuracy required, even a few mistakes in data entry are marked as a failure or a sub-standard performance. To make sure that such mistakes do not crop up, a team leader is appointed for all the trainees, who oversees their work and submits their performance reports.

Every error during data entry is recorded and played back to the worker as a marker of “performance”. “It is natural for some errors to creep up even during such a mundane task and so the worker is required to be extremely accurate, which increases the pressure on him (or her), giving the worker a sense that he or she is not up to the mark,” says Ghosh.

The team leaders are in turn led by qualitycheckers (QCs) who check the documents or the finished products for errors and other quality criterion. The QCs, people who have been in the same line of work for many years, are the ones who are paid salaries of up to Rs15,000-Rs20,000 a month, the highest post in a basic data entry company.

“ Manjula Verma (30) who works at a firm run from a residential apartment in the Majnu Ka Tila area in Delhi, says her company does not even provide cab services at night and that her husband has to pick her up every day after work. She wants to continue with the job because it provides them with a little extra every month

The QCs go through at least five to seven documents every day, checking for errors and correcting them to make sure the final product is error-free. Above the QCs come in the quality assessment (QA) experts whose job most of the time is to make random checks on documents for errors. Most big companies, with a strength of 50 or more, employ QAs themselves while the client companies also employ QAs and, in many cases, a team of QCs at their offices to deal directly with the data entry companies and keep a check on their performances.

The QCs and QAs are always at loggerheads over the performance and always try and pull each other down and compete for brownie points and salary bonuses. The competition keeps the company going well and the salaries down as bonuses for most employees are kept low every year citing the lapses in their performances. In most cases, QAs are encouraged to find as many faults in the QCs’ performance as possible, and vice-versa.

At the bigger data entry companies, which take up complex data entry tasks requiring specific skills, the exploitation is starker since the professionally trained and educated workers are pushed to the limit to keep the company going.

Ankit Goel, a software engineer who worked at BizSpice India Private Limited in Noida for two years, was paid Rs3,000 in the first year as a Software Executive and Rs6,000 during his second year at the company.

While his work was the same as that of a software engineer employed at any big IT company in the country, he was put through long working hours for a measly salary. The company employed barely 10-12 employees but took up complex assignments on designing websites from clients in the country through the contacts that its owner had made over time spent in the industry previously. While most big companies employ designers, quality checkers and marketing teams, Goel had to manage all the tasks alone.

“I would speak to the clients directly and convince him to offer the particular job to the company. From quotations to complex demands of the clients, I would handle it all and once the contract was finalised, I would have to sit down and complete the task alone, or sometimes with the help of a senior within unrealistic deadlines,” he says.

Goel also had to lead a team of two freshers during his second year with the company and was often given monetary targets that had to be achieved every month. “The salary structure ranged from Rs3,000-Rs12,000 at the company and nobody stuck on for more than four years, choosing to move to a company with a better pay packet,” he says.

Goel too moved to a different company, where he had to work harder than at the previous company. But this time he was paid Rs10,000 a month and “promoted” to the post of Senior Software Executive. When contacted, nobody from BizSpice agreed to talk about the company’s salary structure and work distribution.

Similarly, software firms that deal in digitisation of maps and similar tasks for various agencies, including the Government of India and many state governments, outsource their work to smaller companies in the same field.
At such companies the trainees employed are paid salaries similar to what Goel used to get and made to work long hours marking places and locations on various maps using softwares like AutoCad.

Suman Bhatia, who works at a company called Ridings International in Noida, is paid Rs9,000 and is now in his third year with the company. “We sit for long hours as and when the workloads increases do the work for which executives at bigger companies get paid very well,” he says.

The catch here is the industry standards set for every kind of work and for individual companies. In any software development company there are standards for processes of development, testing, and software application and rules for appearance of final program code, components, interfaces, etc.

Most companies’ performance levels across the world are measured by the CMM (Capability Maturity Model), which is a model of process maturity for software development—an evolutionary model of the progress of a company’s abilities to develop software.

It was created by the American Software Engineering Institute (SEI) in cooperation with Mitre Corporation so that the government of the United States of America (USA) could objectively evaluate software providers and their abilities to manage large projects.

“ ‘Because these students are desperate to find work, they are also open to exploitation,’ says A. K. Naudiyal who taught engineering students at a college. The data entry or small-scale software companies make deals with such institutes and take students as trainees, mostly without any pay. The ‘ordeal’, says Naudiyal, begins for the student when they join the companies

The key concept of the standard is organisational maturity. A mature organisation has clearly defined procedures for software development and project management, which are adjusted and perfected as required. The CMM model defines five levels of organisational maturity, which are referred to as CMM1, CMM2, CMM3, CMM4 and CMM5. CMM5 are the big fish, quality of output from them is guaranteed to be of a certain level, while CMM1 are the small fry, start-ups where the results of a project may not be consistent with requirements. This is the food chain of the IT world, and morsels are passed down, the smaller the more mouths it has to feed, for doing jobs the big guys sub-contract.

Most companies in India fall under the CMM1 and CMM2 categories while some other fall under the CMM3 level. However, with intense competition for work and software development, India has become the hub for CMM4 and CMM5 level companies as hundreds and hundreds of CMM1-CMM3 level companies fight for contracts, quoting as low rates as possible while also raising their standards of efficiency.

“This is what results in most CMM1 and CMM2 level companies exploiting young software engineers to keep costs low and revenue more while insisting on high performance standards at the same time,” says Rajeev Nigam, a Senior Manager at a software major based in Gurgaon (name of company withheld on request), adding, “We see unbelievably low rates being quoted by the companies fighting for major contracts”.

He cites an example: If a CMM5 level company is offering a software development contract to CMM4/CMM3 level companies at a cost of Rs15 lakh, the final contract ends up going at around Rs10 lakh since every company tries to outbid the other. The company which the contract further sub-contracts it to CMM2/CMM1 level companies for various aspects of the project, contracts for which can be given for as low as Rs2 lakh.This can only happen when software developers at such companies work for dirt cheap. “In essence, the $100 billion IT boom in the country is being sustained by systematic exploitation of talent in the country,” he added.

As the list of companies fighting for such contracts keeps growing, the rates quoted keep decreasing. Ankit Goel, for example has now quit his job and started doing freelance work along with an ex-colleague.

“We contact various firms and cite our performances based on our previous projects. Also, we quote rates as low as Rs1 lakh for the development for a full fledged project. Any company would take it and depute a QC or senior designer to oversee our work at the end level,” he says, adding that he too plans to launch his own company in the near future. In the meantime, he works as a freelancer and has a job with a weekly magazine as chief software designer.

While CMM1-CMM3 level companies fight for contracts from major firms, many big companies have also managed to use their own work force to up their standards.

The best example of this is the software major Cognizant Technology Solutions, which has scripted an amazing success story in the Indian IT market over the past four years. It has outpaced the market by a good margin—it outpaced industry exports growth by 10-26 percentage points and total revenue growth by 13-24 percentage points in the past four years.

A recent regulatory disclosure by the New Jersey-based company on the Nasdaq index in US sent shivers down the IT market in the country.

Cognizant said it would pay its top executives 100 per cent of equity incentives—performance bonus paid in the form of shares—if the company’s topline grows by 16 per cent in 2013 against its estimated growth of 20 per cent this year. Investors saw this as a bad omen for Indian IT sector and IT stocks fell, leading to a spate of dismal headlines in newspapers, one of them saying that the suggestion of slower revenue growth from Cognizant could reflect a challenging year ahead for IT industry.

Essentially, it was assumed that the performance of Cognizant is a good indicator of how the IT industry will perform. Analysts said that if Cognizant grows only by 16 per cent in 2013, the industry might grow only in single digits since low growth by the company would drag the overall growth down —Cognizant’s revenues are 10 per cent of the IT industry’s exports today.

The weight attached in the market to Cognizant’s disclosure is a testament to its growing bellwether status in India’s IT sector. In the past two years, the company, which was for long viewed as a low-margin fringe player, has cemented its place as in the A-list of the IT industry with its sector-leading revenue growth. It has consistently beaten Wipro and Infosys in its revenues.

In the present financial year Infosys sales are expected to grow 5 per cent, compared with the 11 per cent growth forecast for the sector by the National Association of Software and Services Companies (Nasscom) and the 16 per cent target set by Cognizant for itself.

“ Rajeev Nigam, a senior manager at a software major based in Gurgaon, says, ‘We see unbelievably low rates being quoted by the companies fighting for major contracts. In essence, the $100 billion IT boom in the country is being sustained by systematic exploitation of talent in the country.’ As the list of companies fighting for contracts keeps growing, the rates quoted keep decreasing

However, there is a dark side to the phenomenal growth achieved by the company in such a short period, claims Nitin Kumar (name changed on request), who was a senior executive at the company till a few months back.
He claims that much like the CMM1 and CMM2 level companies, Cognizant too lowers wages of entry-level workers and demands inexcusably high performance standards from them, finally promoting only a few of the workers who show exceptional ability to adapt and work for long hours.

“There are many who work long hours under strenuous conditions but get paid measly salaries ranging between Rs3,000-Rs12,000 per month. Essentially, Cognizant has adapted the Indian way of exploitation the best and taken advantage of this factor to maximize its profits and lower its spending,” said Kumar.

A majority of Cognizant’s 1.5 lakh employees are based in India across various offices in Noida and Gurgaon, where it is headquartered in north India, and at other places in the country, which Kumar says shows that the company has taken a liking to its Indian workforce, which comes cheaper than in any other country in the world. The company did not respond to phone calls and e-mails asking for comments.

The only major competition posed to the Indian labor force has been in the BPO sector, where Philippines has grown rapidly over the past decade.

India became the world’s largest offshore market when companies in the US and Europe realised that they could save costs by shipping back office work to offshore centres but over the past few years Philippines and Latin America have managed to make strong inroads into the voice-based outsourcing market, aided by an English-speaking workforce that has a more neutral accent and better understanding of western cultural aspects.

From about $7 billion in 2009, the BPO market in Philippines is today valued at $11 billion. It provides employment to over 6,00,000 Filipinos, and the country is the world’s second-largest offshore market.

“ India became the world’s largest offshore market when companies in the US and Europe realised that they could save costs by shipping back office work to offshore centres but over the past few years Philippines and Latin America have managed to make strong inroads into the voice-based outsourcing market

However, a steadily strengthening peso, Philippines’ currency, against a steadily weakening rupee is expected to bring back more jobs to Indian shores. Between 2010 and 2012, the peso rose over 6 per cent against the US dollar while the rupee depreciated 22 per cent, making outsourcing services to Philippines more expensive. This will allow the Indian BPO firms to offer more competitive rates. Unlike the Philippines, however, the vast talent pool in India is badly trained and comparatively underpaid, a fact recognised by the Nasscom in its assessment of the industry’s growth in 2012.

A major reason for the exploitation of workers in the IT sector is that all the labour laws in the country have their roots in the British era, with some of them enacted more than 150 years back. There are 45 laws that govern labour issues and at least 200 more enacted by various state governments in the country. The laws were last fully updated in the Industrial Disputes Act of 1948, which prohibits companies with more than 100 employees from making positions redundant and firing people for any cause other than criminal misconduct.

Companies must keep six attendance logs and 10 separate accounts for overtime wages, and file five types of annual returns. There are at least 11 definitions of the word “wage”. Other rules regulate the height of urinals in workers’ washrooms, how often a building must be lime-washed, and how many sand-filled buckets must be on hand to put out fires. For companies with less than 100 employees, however, there are hardly any regulations except that they should be registered under the Companies Act of 1956 through the Ministry of Corporation Affairs.

In case of companies with more than 100 employees the laws are strict and provide financial cushion to the workers too. But this law faces stiff opposition from industry experts who claim it has deterred foreign investors, hampered manufacturing, and prevented India from experiencing an industrial takeoff similar to China’s.

The government has since been mulling passing provisions to the laws that can allow a company to lay off employees at will but has been facing stiff opposition from labor unions. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, however, is in favour of such laws and has hinted in his many speeches that these laws are hurting the people they are meant to benefit.
In case of IT companies, however, the worse has already been done. To promote the growth of the sector, Parliament in 2001 amended laws to enable companies to operate 24 hours a day, recruit women to work late at night without building facilities exclusively for women, and add staff freely without submitting layoff decisions to any authority.

The Software Technologies Parks of India (STPI), an agency, which comes under the Department of Electronics and Information Technology of the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, has put a large workforce in fenced-off zones where there are very few labour laws to protect the interests of the workers. The STPI’s mandate is to promote the development and export of software and software services including IT-enabled services and to provide statutory and other promotional services to the exporters by implementing government schemes for boosting the sector.
“There have been many cases where some companies have defaulted in even paying the salaries of some of their employees but not much has been done by the government to help them out,” says Sanjay Rathi, an advocate, who has handled many such cases.

“In one case a woman met with an accident due to faulty construction of one of the buildings in Noida but the company failed to compensate her. She is still fighting the case in the court. Labour laws should apply equally to all the companies, whether in an STP or outside it,” he says.

Offices like the ones at Majnu Ka Tila, however, also come under the Industrial Disputes Act, not just under the Companies Act, and are required to be more consistent with payments and salaries. “But due to high-level corruption they are let off easy on other specifications like design of offices and the minimum space required for housing the workforce.”

This has also resulted in the companies hiring people on short-time contracts and software labourers on daily wage contracts, making it easy for them to lay off workers as they wish, which has made the sector insecure for workers. “The Majnu Ka Tila area alone houses a workforce of at least 4,000 people and a some people are fired on flimsy grounds on a daily basis,” Rathi says.

Wages at the lower rungs of the industry have also not grown in proportion with the per capita requirement. Exploitation is now part of the work culture. On the other hand, data show that the wages of Chinese workers are rising much faster. In fact, such is the rate of increase of wages in China that it is expected to be the closest to that in the US within the next decade.

World Bank economist Kaushik Basu has argued that labour laws in India need to be more clear and that the new laws needed should not allow employers to fire workers at will but one that allows for different kinds of contracts.
“Some workers may sign a contract for a high wage but one that requires them to quit at short notice; others may seek the opposite. This would allow firms to employ different kinds of labour depending on the volatility of the market they operate in,” he said in a coloumn some years ago.

The slow pace of resolution of labour issues is also a major problem. Data from the Ministry of Labour show that in the year 2000 there were 533,038 disputes pending in India’s labour courts and of these 28,864 had been pending for over 10 years.

“The exploitation can be understood by calculating the amount that a company gets paid,” says Ghosh. The average payment per character ranges from 5-20 paise. At 10 paise per character, every page proofed and edited fetches the company Rs400, which means even at a lowly 10 pages a day, a worker earns Rs4,000 for the company every day while she gets paid the same amount for the whole month.

Many companies have now also started approaching people through e-mails offering salaries from Rs5,000-Rs10,000 through earn-from-home offers, which allows them to save office space and other related expenditures as well, Ghosh says.

“A lady working at my company who used to earn Rs12,000 per month had to accept as little as Rs4,000 per month for working from home after she got pregnant and could no longer come to office for for a few months. The company simply refused leave for the period and the HR team forced her to resign, thereby making it look like she had quit her job.”

In such circumstances, there seems to be hardly any room for the exploited work force in India’s IT sector to fight for improvement of any sort in their wages and working conditions. Behind the bright lights and window-dressing, there’s little for the workers to cheer.

(Arpit Parashar is a freelance journalist based in Delhi. Sunil is a freelance photographer based in Delhi.)

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2 Comments

Dr.A.Jagadeesh, 1 year ago

Excellent article.
As per the 2012 National Employability Report, 83 per cent of engineering graduates in our country are unfit for employment.
The report, released by employee assessment service provider Aspiring Minds, revealed that among the five lakh technical engineers who graduated in 2011, only 17.45 per cent are fit for employment.
The NASSCOM (National Association of Software and Services Companies) survey of 2011 first brought the situation to light, claiming that over 75 per cent of technical graduates are not ready for jobs. It also explained how India’s $60 billion outsourcing industry is spending almost $1 billion a year training these graduates for jobs.
Other surveys have alarming findings too. An IRIX (Industry Readiness Index) survey conducted in 2012 by Purple Leap, an organisation that trains students to be job-ready, revealed that one third of graduates from the Tier 2, 3 and 4 engineering colleges are not employable even after interventional training.
It reported that students across the country fall short of desirable levels in generic abilities, including communication skills and problem-solving capabilities in particular.
Before you draw conclusions about the academic profiles of these graduates, however, Amit Bansal, CEO of Purple Leap, explains that the survey was conducted among students who scored above 60 per cent.
Earlier last year TeamLease, a private staffing company, published a report stating that although it claimed to hire somebody every five minutes for the last five years, only five per cent of its recruits were fresh graduates who applied for a job.
In its India Labour Report for the year 2012, TeamLease clearly stated that unemployability is a bigger issue than unemployment.
Anshul Mukherjee, a senior consultant from Manpower Recruitment, Mumbai explains how the demand for special skills in technical jobs has increased over the years, which has affected the quality of hiring.
“Gone are the days when companies spent precious time and money training employees for basic job skills. Today, IT careers demand more than coding and programming skills. Not just MNCs, even small enterprises are looking for candidates with multi-specialty skills.”
Besides the lack of technical skills, Aspiring Minds also revealed in their survey how over 50 per cent graduates fall short when it comes to language and grammar.
In fact, several companies like Cognizant, Infosys and Tata Consultancy Services that have a global presence, expect their graduates to be proficient in English communication.

The main reason for the Unemployment and under employment among Indian Engineering Graduates has been the mushrooming of Engineering Colleges in India. There are 3393 engineering colleges in India with a capacity of 14.85 lakh seats across 36 courses approved by the All India Council of Technical Education(AICTE). Of the total number of colleges, 65% are in the south and 35% in the north. Many of the Colleges lack basic infrastructure and qualified faculty.
The syllabus in the Engineering Courses of different branches needs to be practical oriented with latest advances taught. In this connection German Technical Education model can be followed to some extent.

nitish, 1 year ago

Good article. Well researched. Shows that in India, even the literates are easily exploited.

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