Monday, December 19, 2005

Who is responsible and for how long ???

The rape and murder of a business process outsourcing (BPO) employee Prathiba Murthy has provoked many questions for women employees working in late night shifts in the information technology (IT) and BPO sector. It has caused a furore in Bangalore, India’s Silicon Valley. Twenty-four-year-old Pratibha Srikanth Murthy, employed with a renowned BPO firm, was driven to an isolated spot instead of the office by the cab driver who allegedly raped and murdered her last Tuesday.

Apart from the taxi driver who deserves the most severe punishment, as per me the employer is no less guilty.

The BPO boom has also brought with it a set of disadvantages such as odd working hours. Employees, both male and female, are ferried to and from the office often in the wee hours without proper security arrangements.

But was the Pratibha episode not waiting to happen?

When companies outsource work where security is an issue, they invite trouble. Transporting employees involves security at various levels. But to avoid fleet maintenance and hiring drivers, companies thought it fit to outsource transportation to travel agents. Companies have little control either over the drivers or the way the vehicles are driven. Over 20,000 trips are made every night in Bangalore to transport employees to their work centre and back home.Yet, there are no standard operating procedures. The police had formulated guidelines for late night pick up and drop. But many companies dismissed the valuable suggestions as just a piece of paper and courted danger in the night.I don't see the firms,police and law and order system working in tandem at any point of time.

Pratibha’s unfortunate end should be the beginning of some soul-searching by companies that know only to see the colour of money and not the danger lurking in the dark. There must be strict guidelines in picking up and dropping employees at night.

Few points I could think in this direction (many have already been addressed in most of the national dailies though).

1. Verify the entire history and the background of the drivers and have their identities in a database, which are accessible to all the police stations, and check centers in the city.

2.Women constables must be part of this squad. And use technology to track every vehicle plying in the night. According to rough estimates, the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) sector employs nearly 3.5 lakh people across the country of which nearly 40 percent are women. For survival of BPO and prevent bad overseas publicity, I think the Private company-helped by NASSCOM and State govts, should form Private Security guards of both sexes and they should work like marshals, escort the BPO staffs every after-hours. This action will go a long way for security and good reputation of the BPOs.

3. The women employees should not be the first to be picked and also not the last to be dropped. The entire onus should be on the firm for the safety of its employees. Give strict instructions to the employees that a particular driver is assigned for a particular route and he should not be changed at all under any circumstances and if the same happens then the entire group of commuters needs to be informed. The HR team of the firm or the department, which handles transport, should be responsible for this.

4.I also pity when human resource managers “camouflage work as fun” in these BPO’s when the bare necessities like security of the employees are not taken care of.“Companies have to realise that the people working in BPOs are not made of nuts and bolts. They are human beings and should be treated well too.” (as told to
Take the case of Govt Firms in Bangalore such as HAL and HMT, they also employee quite a number of females but we hardly get to hear anything from that part of the sector. Why why???

The answer is simple they have their own buses which plies across the length and breadth of the city during the required hours. The best part is it is manned by a driver who is an employee of say (HAL/HMT) and are not outsourced employees. I personally feel all the MNC’s and the Indian outfits, which have of late invested colossal amounts of money for BPO, are bothered about their profit margins and in the process they have outsourced the maximum they can which they feel are not directly work related. They may talk tomes stating they are bothered about the employee security and blah blah but the ground reality is that they are not. They are not and they are not…

Time has come that they need to change and also something needs to be done with immediate application with regards to Points 1,2 and 3,I have stated above (my views though). Else why will any Maa allow her daughter, daughter-in-law or for that matter someone allow his wife, sister to work ‘graveyard shift’ for few thousand rupees. The crowd, never afraid of the dark or working late, now has to live in the fear of the unknown.

We blow trumpets that we have advanced and done this and that and we are growing as one of the fastest economies in the world today but at what cost.
A recent survey by a leading Indian magazine the “India Today” showed one in every two women in leading cities felt unsafe and more than one in three was skeptical of police handling of cases.

More to come keep reading and remainconnected.


At 3:22 PM, Blogger biju said...

very true. But the potential for danger is not restricted to BPOs and outsourcing outfits. The IT industry in India thrives on over-working their staff and women employees are not spared too. Atleast if they are regularly on late-night shifts, people can plan and take precautions. What about the folks who suddenly find themselves asked to complete absurd amounts of work by "end of day"!!!

At 3:59 PM, Blogger sam said...

I have a few cents to add....
In India the incidence of rape has very high occurrence, but the rape of a BPO employee has started a debate, which ideally should start for every rape that occurs. This is because we the 'techies' or the citizens of the globe (Bangalore) are able to relate to Pratibha. And now we have the fear it can happen to us.
All the suggestions of the police to BPO firm, the BPO employees etc. are fine, but there are two things we must do to find a more permanent cure for this malady.
First, understand and analyze, what made the driver do this, was it lust? Was it some psychological problem? It is not necessary that if he were a driver employed with the BPO Company or HAL, he wouldn't have done what he did.
Second, as we got matured to give more confidence to the American companies outsourcing their critical work to us, the transport companies to whom such critical work is outsourced need to mature. The backbone of a matured organization is process and strict adherence to these processes. The BPO companies must ensure that the transportation companies have a process and adhere to it. These along with the fear of law (if not the respect for law) will ensure that we have a safer city, a safer world.


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