Heartburn over BPO jobs

New Delhi: Fears of joblessness in the US have forced several states to introduce legislation seeking to prevent BPO (business processes outsourcing) jobs being farmed out to companies in other countries. India being a major beneficiary of this system has reasons to worry.

 Opposition to BPO has grown over the last few months as the slowdown in US economy has turned out to be more enduring than was expected. American jobs sourced out to India means fewer jobs for American citizens.

 India earns nearly $ 1.5 billion dollars every year from these jobs and employs 150,000 people in the sector that runs 400 call centres and produces high-quality software. India still remains the main choice for US companies mainly because of considerably lower wages and good quality of work. Much of the quality comes from excellent grasp of English language Indian youngsters working in these countries have got.

 Educated Indians as a whole are known to be better at English language than people from most countries.

 The first organised opposition to BPO jobs farmed out to India came from New Jersey where a bill was introduced in the state Senate seeking to bar such jobs from going abroad. It demanded that at least government contracts funded by US tax payers’ money should not go to places like India while US citizens themselves were losing jobs everyday.

There are chances of such resistance spreading to private US companies as well. Already across the Atlantic the major British trade unions have come together to thwart outsourcing as they expect joblessness to grow because of it.

During his US visit in mid-June India’s commerce minister Arun Jaitley raised the issue with US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick and other administration leaders. Jaitley later said there was no immediate threat to India’s BPO market as US industrialists themselves had been lobbying to protect it. US companies save $ 20,000 per year on every employee by farming out such jobs to Indian-based companies.

However, we have not heard the last on it as the states of Missouri, Connecticut, Washington and Maryland have prepared bills like New Jersey’s opposing jobs getting farmed out to cheap-labour countries.g

Growing Paranoia

Hate crimes against Indians and Muslims continue in the US

In mid-June a young Indian student of University of Massachussets Dartmouth was severely beaten up by four white racists. The attackers were shouting, “Go back to Iraq.”

The victim, Saurabh Bhalerao, pleaded he was not a Muslim from Iraq but a Hindu from India. His pleas fell on deaf ears. Bhalerao was hospitalised for days after the attack.

There are several questions regarding the nature of and intent behind the attack. Was this young graduate student attacked merely because he looked like a Muslim from Iraq? Are average Americans (bigots or not) unable to understand that an Iraqi is not an Indian, nor a Hindu is a Muslim by any stretch of imagination.

Of late considerable resentment has been growing among working class Americans threatened by growing joblessness. There have been cases of American companies retrenching employees who are US citizens and hiring Indians brought in on L-1 visa at lower salaries and minimum perks. US citizens seeing their jobs taken away from them to be ultimately handed over to non-citizens have reason to feel angry and frustrated.

 Working groups have lobbied politicians, who in turn, are proposing legislation to protect American jobs. The downslide in US economy is continuing raising fears and uncertainty among the working class. At a time like this, it is very easy for racist groups, xenophobes and common frightened Americans to turn the 1.8 million Indian community into a scapegoat.

Indians also generate envy by merely being one of the most prosperous communities in the country. As many as 250 Sikhs have been attacked since September 11, 2001 ostensibly because they look like Osama bin Laden and his men. Although Sikh groups in the US have tried to explain that Sikhs are not Muslims, nobody seems to understand, much less the attackers.

 Amnesty International has pointed out that for every hate crime reported, nine go unreported because foreign workers are not sure of their legal status. Sikhs have gone to the extra length of publicly explaining how their turbans and beards are markedly different from those of the Arabs (and Osama’s). This has not really worked.

  People are being attacked in the US because they are Muslims, or “perceived to be Muslims.” That is a fact, but there is another, less easily grasped fact, which is that a generalised anti-Indian feeling is also running high because of job losses. 

US Congress member from Connecticut Rosa Luxemburg Rosa L DeCauro is the latest to serve notice for legislation to impose restriction on companies bringing in relatively lower-paid workers from India to replace better paid employees who are US citizens.

Delauro’s bill seeks to limit annual L-1 visas to 35,000. The annual L-1 visas grew from 75,315 in 1992 to 328,480 in 2001. The Bill also seeks to ban blanket petitions to bring in L-1 workers. Under the bill, no American company that has laid of an American worker in the six months before or after filing an L-1 visa application will get it.g


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