February 11, 2009

Being Gay

After reading the following post, you might conclude that I could have avoided this controversial title. Yet, if you acknowledge the fact that making people visit your blog requires some advertisement, you wouldn’t complain. : - )

This post is about the growing ‘pink slips’ being given to employees of private organization due to the economic recession which is evidenced worldwide. If we were to analyze where the “global meltdown” started, we might point our fingers to the bankruptcy of some of the premier financial institutions, much more fundamental reason would be the sub-prime crisis. These financial institutions failed miserably because they had invested huge sums of money and bought the sub-prime mortgage loans. More concrete than that would be the stupidity of the banks in lending huge sums of money to people who had no means to return them, in the hope of increasing their profits with their money which was lying idle. If we have to sum up all of this and say it in one word, we have to choose “Greed” to describe it rightly.

One of the immediate consequences of an economic slowdown is layoffs. The person who is shown the door may not be responsible for the plight of the company, in most cases like the recent crisis he may not even know the cause completely, yet he is asked to go! What could be the rationale behind the indiscriminate firing adopted by the companies whenever even the slightest of economic troubles crop up? We can accept layoffs as a last minute resort under unavoidable circumstances, but one cannot understand why they are being used as the first method to deal with financial instabilities.

The reason is not hard to find out. These companies don’t think they are dealing with human beings, for them you’re a “human resource”. You’re one of the most dispensable of the resources available to a company, unlike the physical resources like buildings, land etc. The “human resources” in a private company don’t form workers’ union and it becomes so easy to get them out without fearing a backlash. Also, when good times come and if it is required to acquire some of these “resources” to make more money, they are easily available in the market. This is the understanding that the companies have of a warm blooded human being like you and me.

Once hired, maximum ‘throughput’ has to be obtained from the “resource”. This can be done only when the “resource” is engaged for 12-14 hours a day (sometimes even longer). But how does this affect the human being? Bangalore may be the software capital of India, but did you know it is also the divorce capital and the suicide capital of India? The city has got this distinction only after it witnessed the software boom. The work conditions in a private company are not different from the ones that existed in the days of Industrial revolution in Britain. Plainly put, it is extortion. The glittery office cubicles, swimming pools, gym, that these companies show to prove their commitment to the workforce are in reality a clever idea designed in some management book to motivate the “human resources” in order to obtain maximum throughput. It is like playing music to a milch cow to make it yield more milk.

Most software companies in India resorted to “preemptive” firing because they wanted to meet their financial targets for the year set by their board. It is a fact that most of the companies that resorted to layoffs posted profits. What does it indicate? It shows desperation on the part of the companies to keep the investors (share holders) happy. Unless the investors are happy, the share prices will not remain high in the stock exchanges. Thus the companies are ready to keep the unseen and ever-changing investor happy (since the shares change hands frequently) , by resorting to cost cutting by removing the “human resources” who have worked for long hours every day, without complaining and at the cost of their own personal lives. However, the companies know that they have to conceal this opportunism and turn GAY. They fire their resources citing “under performance”, this reason cannot be contested in any court and is highly subjective, which makes it easy for the companies to get rid of an employee. If it is true that suddenly so many “resources” have turned under performers then shouldn’t the HR department be sacked en masse for recruiting them? Was it hatching eggs when the said underperformers were hired, made permanent after the initial period, being given an increment in their salaries, given promotions, given merit certificates appreciating their good work?

This forces us to analyse some philosophical issues. Why do we need development and to whom should it be directed? Is it for giving means to people so that they will be empowered, or is it simply for acquiring more wealth for the sake of wealth? What is the point in making money by pushing people into poverty? It is like winning wars by killing lakhs of men and pushing thousands of families into sorrow. What is the point in denying hundreds of human beings their happiness, and design an electronic gadget that promises its holders exactly the same?

Though many of us feel strongly about these issues, we hold back and don’t express them because of the fear of being prosecuted. We must know the rights guaranteed to us by our constitution. I know that I enjoy the ‘Right to freedom of speech and expression’ guaranteed under Article 19-1(a) of my constitution. If someone asks me to shut up, I know I can directly approach the Supreme Court, the highest court in the land, under Article 32, for the infringment of my Fundamental Right. Most of us may be professional graduates, yet when it comes to knowing our rights and fighting the bully, we are no different from the people who were subjugated to slavery. “Our lives begin to end the day, when we remain silent about things that matter” Martin Luther king.

The day we know our rights, we will turn human beings from human resources.


Sriram Krishnan said...

What these companies are doing are wrong. But

- Everyone's employment contract always states that they can be fired at will. There is no reason for the company to actualy have a valid reason (barring illegal reasons like sexual harassment or whistle blowing repercussions).

- Second, frankly, how long did people think this was going to last? As someone who attended 'placement' in college, I know how much of a sham they were and that the people hired had no qualifications for the job or pay they were hired into. Folks who couldn't write one line of code were getting paid 5-10x graduates forced to take other professions. It is naive to assume that they weren't going to be shown the way out the moment they weren't cheap anymore (like what happened with the recent recession).

And finally, all companies are meant to keep the shareholder's interest as their first priority. Why? because the shareholder has spent their own money and is part *owner*. If employees have stock, they are part owner too. If employees wanted change, they can always buy stock and vote in a new BoD or CEO.

I'm not saying that a lot of this current system doesn't suck. But having life sapping unions where the only way to get ahead is by being senior and no one is productive due to politics, lock-outs and strikes isn't a good idea either. Collective bargaining kills innovation. The technology industry has flourished since there is no union leadership (with typical goonda/political backing) to negotiate with.

And finally, if the companies are firing people who haven't underperformed, they should have no trouble finding a job elsewhere. Unless they were unqualified in the first place.

Sriram Krishnan said...

To clarify, I'm contesting two of your assertions

- That companies are doing this to avoid legal hassles. Firing people to cut costs is perfectly legal (see my own company for example). They might be doing this to avoid bad PR but that's not illegal

- That company employees trump shareholders. Capitalism and the free market are built on the owner's interests coming first

vikraman said...

"If employees wanted change, they can always buy stock and vote in a new BoD or CEO."
You're sounding like Marie antoniette, who said "If they don't have bread, let them eat cake". How can the employees who have no means of subsistence after being fired buy stakes and remove the CEO? Are you saying that inorder for your voice to be heard you must be RICH enough to buy stakes in your company? What is your suggestion to blue collared workers?

Why should you conclude that the alternative to capitalism is Trade unions and strikes? what about Navratna companies in India? They are profit making Public sector companies which balance
employees and stake holders well.

The strength of any relationship is known not during good times,but during bad times. In the government sector, the employee-employer relationship is like a marriage. The commitment lasts not just till the retirement, but until death in the form of pensions. In fact it exists even after death as the employee's spouse gets a share of the pension. You can never understand what it means to receive money at the age of 80 which enables you to lead an honourable life.

In a private sector, neither the employee nor the employer is serious about the commitment. The employee does not think twice to dump the employer when he gets a better opportunity elsewhere. This brazen opportunism is termed "career advancement". Similarily the employer does not think twice to throw an employee out even if he has the slightest of financial troubles. Thats why,
the priavte sector employment is like hiring a prostitute. So it doesn't matter with whom one is sleeping with as long as one is employed in private sector.

Ofcourse I'm not recommending for
pensions to be provided in private sector. All i'm saying is apply restraint when you fire a human being. Don't treat him just like an other "resource". He may have a family to support, children studying, aged parents to take care of. In one stroke, you're bringing darkness to their lives by firing him.

Sriram Krishnan said...

First, you need to know who normal stockholders are. Normal stock holders are normal people. My dad held Satyam stock for the longest time. Another large section is institutional investors. These in turn are owned by normal. So this is not rich stock broker who can control things. This is normal middle class people (though I hate the term blue collar since I think it leaves out a class of people). I think you keep insinuating that stock holders are somehow an elite which isn't true.

Let's be clear who these fired employees are. These are not some poor farmers with no means of existence. These were some of the best paid people for the last several years. When they got fired, they must have gotten great severance packages. As part of their employment, they must have amassed stock options and awards (they were a standard part of the contract to even college hires). The way these companies are set up, it is not hard to table a motion at a shareholders meeting. Or combine enough shares into a voting bloc. Etc, etc.

The wonderful thing about the private sector is that if someone mistreats you, you can take your skills elsewhere. If these people really *didnt* deserve this, they just need to show up at a different company and get hired.

The reason they're unable to do that is they won the equivalent of a lottery a few years ago. You and I were part of the same placement scam were I could have got a job for several lakhs though I didn't get a single coding question. It is unreasonable and downright naive to expect that lottery to keep on giving.

The only mistake these companies made is to regularly trim headcount as part of a standard proces. Or I would argue they shouldn't have hired so many in the first place.

The real talented folks here should have no problem finding another job. In fact, I posit that if you can't find another job, you were probably not good enough and think of yourself as luck so far.

And the private sector, with its 'whoring', has done a lot more for this country than the public sector. The reason we've had this boom in the first place was because you didn't need to appease some corrupt bureaucrat who happened to clear IAS and figure out how to get a license to do something. The only good thing the public sector has done is to leave the private sector alone.

vikraman said...

First of all, I'm sorry if you found my comments harsh. My opinions are only against the system.

What percentage of the company stocks do you think the employees can hold? If you have 51% you can appoint anyone as the MD. You need to have at least 26% stakes( this is called strategic stake) for your voice to be heard. I know normal people hold stocks but they don't hold enough to cause any real change. people who hold 1% or 2% stakes come to the annual general meeting just for the freebies.

Regarding the software professionals, even if i accept your views about their lack of skills, the companies know better about the kind of people they want. The "lottery" that these people were enjoying wasn't a lottery after all. They were made to work for 12-14 hours a day. Remember, the software companies were earning in dollars from their American clients. Rs50,000 per month seems big in India, but it is a mere $1000 in the US. You won't be able to hire a toilet cleaner for that money in USA. Therefore you cannot say that these people didn't deserve this money and this "unsustainable" system was going to collapse some day.

Btw, are you also saying that people who lost their jobs in other sectors such as Automobile, banking, real estate etc too didn't deserve it?

True, bureaucracy world over has a bad name. However, it is because of the rule-bound nature of the RBI,SEBI, public sector banks that India has been insulated from the sub-prime crisis. world bank infact congratulated the babu's of RBI's in avoiding the south east asian economic crisis and sub prime crisis entering India.

We have been able to avoid such disasters because we have not been greedy, we have been empathetic, we have always kept human being as the centre of development.

busted loser said...

What the hell does the title "Being Gay" have to do with an article from a socialistic whiner crying about people getting fired during recession? I guess you went for some very cheap publicity by trying to use that word instead of just using "LAME" is it? I have no respect for you at this point and would very much like to shout a lot of extremely insulting expletive profanities at you, but of course i am trying not to that.

Then again it is pointless shouting at a ignorant moron who can't even grab the basic fact that companies of course are only doing what they have to. Well it must be obvious that I am in no way a business oriented guy here, I will just run with logic. Hello it is called Business, which planet are you from? What do you expect then, charity?

Well our software industry es still mostly service Oriented in this country so what else do you expect then the huge disparities in the salaries. What we need is actual creative people who can bring in new ideas, creativity being the one hugely lacking aspect in India. Not going to bother with typing much more in this pointless blog catering to a bunch of photocopiers who just only know how to follow every single stupid rule to the digit. Sheesh lifeless boring people like you give me the creeps.

vikraman said...

You may not respect me but i respect you a lot, which is why i want to reply you.
Although the title of the post could have been different, i think it suits it nonetheless. How else can you define the attitude of the shenanigans of the private sector? "Being gay" certainly suits their actions in crisp words with due respect to verbal economy.

I never recommended that loss making companies keep their employees. The post was against the profit making ones indulging in "preemptive" firing. what i demand in my post is for fairness, not charity. You cannot treat your employees like prostitutes, to be shown the door once your urge is over. Is that what you call 'business'?

I don't know whether i'm a "socialist whiner" or not. But the truth is a socialist remains the same in good and bad times. A capitalist remains "committed" to business principles that you mentioned and free market theory only during good times, and at bad times he turns a socialist. Do you agree with privatising profits and socialising losses?

How can you explain the capitalist USA bailing out companies with a huge package, what about the ban/ limitation on hiring outsiders? how far are these capitalistic?