India's apex IT industry body has asked BPO firms to counsel employees on healthy living following incidents of rowdy and aberrant behaviour, including drunkenness and drug abuse, by call centre workers.
"Nasscom has asked BPO (business process outsourcing) firms to counsel their employees on good and positive living and not to implement any alcohol or HIV/AIDS test," Kiran Karnik, president, National Association of Software and Service Employees (Nasscom), told IANS.
"IT and ITeS is an industry where a whole lot of people employed are young, have entered just after graduation and put in stressful work experience."
"Yes, there are companies who have sought our opinion on whether to implement alcohol or HIV/AIDS tests. I also know that people do come drunk to work but these problems can be sorted out," Karnik added.
The incidence of alcohol and drug abuse and HIV/AIDS is on the rise in call centres. According to the UN Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC), companies including Nasscom should come forward to voice concern and facilitate platforms to discuss the issues with employees.
Last month, a drunken call centre employee mowed down two children aged three and six while severely injuring their mother and their one-year-old sister, both of whom are still warded at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences.
"I believe BPO firms should make awareness about the ill-effects of the substance used a part of their induction package and make efforts to de-glamourise its use," said Ashita Mittal, senior national programme officer, UNODC.
UNODC has organised road shows in front of some BPO firms in Gurgaon. According to Mittal, the response was enormous.
She also said some of the leading BPO companies have approached UNODC to campaign for them and advise the employees about the negative effects of drugs.
"I would definitely like to say that risks and vulnerabilities are increasing in the call centres. But then that is true for many industries where employees do long night shifts and find it difficult to adjust with life," she added.
"A lot of glamour is attached to the use of drugs, which needs to be done away with. It's the duty of the employers to talk out issues with the employees in a fair and open environment."
Karnik believes that individual companies should set up counselling sessions and make employees aware of the social disease.
"See, one has to understand that these are young boys and girls who are made to work in a very stressful environment. They are fresh out of college, earning hefty salaries and it's obvious they would like to experience things that might not be good for their life," Karnik stressed.
"So instead of being a moral police it's always better to advice them about is consequences."
Added Sam Chopra, president, Business Process Industry Association of India (BPIAI): "It is a great idea to make the employees aware of things like alcohol and drug abuse, HIV/AIDS, pre-marital sex and social relationships. This will help in prevention."
New Delhi-based psychiatrist Sanjay Chugh told IANS: "Incidence of drug abuse, alcohol, AIDS are definitely on the rise in BPOs. The people working for BPOs are exposed to physical stress, the body clock goes for a toss leading to mental and emotional stress, which I am sure are further complicated by the fact that the work itself gets to be monotonous. "
"So, a lot of people feel wasted. People resort to drugs, alcohol and sex for want of some variety, thrill etc."
Indranil Paul (name changed), an employee of a leading Gurgaon-based BPO, admitted there were plenty of problems.
"BPO jobs are stressful, but that's for any other job. And I believe call centre jobs are much more challenging. So I think guys should chill out and take it positively. Those who can't should just leave."