Friday, March 03, 2006

Indian Call Centre Worker's Info to go into a centralized Database

The register reports that a delegation of European unions will tour Indian call centres next week to investigate an industry scheme to register the country's call centre employees in a biometric database.

Apparently this is a NASSCOM initiative to try and tell EU and other countries that outsourcing security concerns don't need to be worried about a lot.

Launched in January by an Indian trade body representing employers, the National Association of Software and Service Companies (Nasscom), will store biometric, personal, professional and educational details of workers in IT and outsourcing industries.

I see a whole lot of possible issues with this:
1) Privacy Issues! Not that I work in the BPO space, but why would anyone want their personal identification data be available to companies abroad? What happens if you quit the BPO industry? Does your database record get deleted? Who do you have to inform? Worse, what if the database gets leaked to unscrupoulus marketing people?

2) Take a look at this:

Indian call centre workers are cheap and poorly protected, which is why so much work has been given to them by European firms. The centres are reputedly characterised by high-pressure, long hours, and a high staff turnover.

Worse still, they have to put up with abuse and condescension from the customers they serve on telephone lines to countries in the northern hemisphere. Yet these call centre jobs are comparatively well paid and highly sought after.

It's bad enough that people at the lower end of the food chain in Indian BPOs have a comparatively hard life - aprt from everything listed on top, they also have to deal with camera all over the work place, intense secuity checks and stupid HR rules - do they really need more measures of security to lock them into an even more repressive workspace?

3) Take a loook at this excerpt from the article:

The Nasscom biometric database of workers was the Indian response to an international news storm initiated by Britain's Sun tabloid newspaper, which engineered a leak of British bank details from an Indian call centre last year.

Unions including Amicus shamelessly exploited the opportunity and helped whip the storm up to the point where Nasscom had to do something to protect its business interests. A biometric database seemed like the obvious solution*. Now this could be the single largest barrier to the unionisation of emerging Indian industries.

As for workers in Indian call centres, they have been lucky to land jobs that are considered luxurious, so telling them that their conditions are rubbish may not wash.

Unless their new-found wealth and power gives them the confidence to take on employers, the only way to help them unionise will be to encourage them to see their place in the global economy. That will mean treating them as comrades rather than enemies. ®

* The adoption of bureaucratic processes from the northern hemisphere has always been the clincher for most Nasscom members in deals for outsourcing business. They have signed up to anything they can, from data protection to formal methods of business.

Need I say more?