[Reader-list] Labour reforms

Joy joy at sarai.net
Thu Jul 8 05:49:00 IST 2004

*Some US firms prefer cons to Indians*

USA Today
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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