The figures are very impressive. By the end of this year, India will cater to 66 per cent of the Business Processing Outsourcing (BPO) industry worldwide. Revenue will shoot up to $ 13.8 billion and the government is working furiously on legislation on data privacy. And why is India such a sought-after BPO hub? Simple, costs are nominal and there is abundant skilled manpower. But the flip side is the conditions under which people work in this industry. The recent rape and murder of a BPO woman employee in Pune by the taxi driver dropping her home is indicative of just how unregulated this booming industry is. This is not the first time that such gruesome incidents have taken place. A woman was similarly killed earlier in Bangalore, the nerve-centre of the BPO industry. Given the low operating margins, it makes economic sense for the industry to upgrade its infrastructure and introduce better working conditions for its staff.
The main concern in India is the high attrition rate among employees. The practice so far has been to fill vacancies with fresh out-of-school or college novices rather than try to retain experienced hands. This will cost dearly in the long-run. Lack of flexibility in working hours and stress are the main reasons why people give up this profession. And, for women who have been a driving force in the industry, the safety angle. It is bad enough that there are negative perceptions abroad about the India BPO sector on account of the fact that it has taken away jobs from those countries. But given the haphazard manner in which the industry is run, such negative perceptions are gaining ground here. This could well spell an end to the flow of abundant and cheap labour that keeps the industry going. This is a worrying thought for a sector that is slated to employ 600,000 by the end of this year. The government, always eager to meddle in the private sector, has been inexplicably tardy when it comes to the BPO sector.
But irrespective of the government, BPO firms have to put in place stringent screening of transport facilities and satisfactory working conditions. The industry’s USP has been cost-effective quality of work. If the best talent stays away, India could well lose out to other Asian countries, especially China, that have been hoping to make inroads into the business. The ghastly murder in Pune should serve as a wake-up call.