[Reader-list] Labour reforms
joy at sarai.net
Thu Jul 8 05:49:00 IST 2004
*Some US firms prefer cons to Indians*
Ontario, July 8
Call centre employees in India, say hello to competition -- from
convicts in US prisons.
About a dozen US states -- Oregon, Arizona, California and Iowa, among
others -- have call centres in state and federal prisons, underscoring a
push to employ inmates in telemarketing jobs that might otherwise go to
low-wage countries such as India and the Philippines.
At least 2,000 inmates in the US work in call centres, and that number
is rising as companies seek cheap labour without incurring the wrath of
politicians and unions.
David Day is one of 85 inmates who arrange business meetings from a call
centre at the Snake River Correctional Institution, a state
penitentiary. "I'm grateful for the opportunity," says the 43-year-old.
He and his cellmates wouldn't be making $200 a monthe from behind bars
if not for consulting firm Perry Johnson's aversion to moving jobs offshore.
"Prisons are prime candidates for low-skill jobs," says Sasha
Costanza-Chock, a University of Pennsylvania graduate who last year
completed a thesis on call centres at US prisons.
Market conditions seem to favour prisons. After declining for years,
call-centre jobs in the US increased several hundred, to about 360,000,
last year. At the same time, more white-collar jobs are going offshore
than researchers originally thought. About 830,000 US service-sector
jobs, from telemarketers to software engineers, will move abroad by the
end of 2005, up 41per cent from previous predictions, says Forrester
But the convicted workforce elicits as much dread as interest. Companies
flinch at the prospect of a public-relations backlash should news leak
out that they employ hardened criminals. Union representatives,
meanwhile, call the hiring of prisoners a flagrant violation of
minimum-wage laws and unfair competition to free workers.
Ironically, market conditions overseas could return call-centre jobs
that drifted offshore to the US, says Naren Patni, CEO of Patni Computer
Systems, India's sixth-largest software company and a pioneer in
"Costs and turnover for low-skill jobs will increase in India," Patni
says. "Who wants to be stuck in a telemarketing job, working odd hours
to fit the US time zones, if higher-paying jobs in product development
come over? That may force US companies to move call centres, maybe to
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