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Report Cites Poor Working Conditions in India's Call Centers

October 17, 2006
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A new report conducted by the Communications Workers of America and worker organizations in India shows that being a call center rep in India might not be all that it's cracked up to be.

As more multinational companies have moved call-center work to India in recent years, they have portrayed these jobs as high-paying, well-respected professional positions for India's workers.

That might be true, but these workers are under much more stress than their U.S. counterparts, according to the report, titled "Bi-National Perspective on Offshore Outsourcing: A Collaboration Between Indian and U.S. Labour."

The report's publication highlights the direction that the Communications Workers of America is going as it attempts to stem the tide of employers moving call-center work to India, observers say. Multinational companies would be wise to pay attention to the arguments the report makes, says Gary Chaisson, a professor at Clark University.

The report, published Tuesday, October 17, is based on surveys of 230 Indian call center reps at Accenture, Convergys and Wipro. The Communications Workers of America worked with three Indian organizations to gather the information: the New Trade Union Initiative, the Young Professionals Collective and Jobs With Justice.

The surveys found that nearly 40 percent of call center workers are paid 15,000 rupees a month, or $318. Call center reps in India typically are 20 to 25 years old.

"This is a good salary for young Indian workers," Anannya Bhattacharjee, international organizer for Jobs With Justice, said during a conference call about the report's findings.

But the levels of stress that these workers are facing are very high, she said. Half of the respondents said they work overtime, with most of them working extra hours one to three days a week.

Often, call center reps in India are working 48 to 54 hours a week, according to the report.

The study gauged work intensity by measuring the number of calls an employee took each day and the total amount of time per day that a worker spent taking calls. Based on that formula, the study found that the average Indian call center employee serves 180 customers per day, compared with 75 customers per day for U.S. call center reps.

As a result, these employees are facing a worker intensity level of 81 percent to 84 percent, far above the 50 percent that the authors deem as "reasonable."

At one of the firms where work intensity averaged 80 percent, more than 70 percent of the call center reps say they would welcome union representation, Bhattacharjee says.

"This report shows that there is a need for unions in the call centers," says Vinod Shetty, secretary of the Young Professionals Collective, an India-based group focused on organizing call center workers in India. "The general impression has been that these workers are unpaid, but this report shows that there is a need among the workers for a union."

The Communications Workers of America and other groups plan to use the report to raise awareness around the working conditions of India's call center representatives, says Annie Hill, vice president of the CWA.

"Call center workers in India, the U.S. and other countries are facing similar problems," she says. "Workers are up against employers who only want to pay the lowest possible labor cost no matter what the work is."

--Jessica Marquez

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