It is not an obvious combination. The world of trade unions and that of information-technology (IT) services seem light years away. And that is just how most call-centre employees would like it to stay.
Although the majority of call-centre employees feel exploited — particularly by the long hours they put in at the workplace — they are just as clear that they would rather not call in the trade unions. Not yet, at least.
The findings are part of an opinion poll conducted for the Hindustan Times by C fore. Conducted among 374 IT and ITeS professionals in seven cities across India, the poll found that call-centre employees in Delhi, Gurgaon, Mumbai, Bangalore, Pune, Hyderabad and Chennai believed it was not yet time for unions. The majority went on to add that the formation of trade unions would, in fact, harm the industry in the long run.
The workers felt most aggrieved about long working hours and, perhaps, odd hours — going to work when most of the neighbourhood was preparing to go to bed or was already in bed. Low pay was another grievance and then the lack of facilities, the bane of any low-cost-high-returns operation. That was the response of 42 per cent of the respondents who felt exploited. The majority, 47 per cent, was happy and would not change anything.
Would they like the sector to be thrown open to unions? The majority, 53 per cent, wanted them to be kept out. But those who wanted unions were not an insignificant minority; not at 43 per cent.
The news is not too bad for those like the CPM-affiliated Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) which wanted to form a union in the IT industry in West Bengal. The CITU will launch the West Bengal Information Technology Association on November 14.
It is going to be a tightrope act, however, because the unions have a huge block to overcome. About 55 per cent of the respondents said they believed unions would harm the industry in the long run. Even those who wanted unions seemed a bit unsure, fearing that unionism may end up harming the industry.
So, what is the reformist chief minister of West Bengal, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, going to do — go with the unions or stick with the workers?