Wednesday, 16 July 2008

BPO e-Union: A Model for the Future?

A recent article in the Times of India profiled the entry into the Indian trade union movement of a new model of trade union organisation.

See the Times article here:

http://epaper.timesofindia.com/Repository/ml.asp?Ref=VE9JQkcvMjAwOC8wNy8wNyNBcjAxMDAw&Mode=HTML&Locale=english-skin-custom

The union has been formed specifically for employees of the Indian company BPO. BPO refers to itself as a 'business process outsourcing' venture and employees undertake a range of back-office and call-centre functions for UK, European and US clients.

See this article for background on the firm:

http://www.bpoindia.org/research/bpo-in-india.shtml

The BPO union is interesting in that it exists predominantly (although not exclusively) on the basis of e-based organising and on through exerting pressure on shareholders not employer representatives.

What is not surprising however is that unions in India are able to tap into the significant pressure on workers like those at BPO. Much work has been done in India to document the significant degrees of racism faced by call centre workers from Western customers.

Similarly, many of these workers have suffered from the employment and health issues that has led to call centres being referred to the new factories of the 21st century.

Although similar models can be found in the UK and are evident, for example, within the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), they have formed as a response to trade union decline.

The BPO e-union however has witnessed higher relative growth and, as opposed to the UK, amongst younger, graduate workers. The union web-site is at:

http://bpounion.wordpress.com/

Once you've had a chance to look at the sites I would welcome any comments on what the implications for the UK are from this form of organising and whether you think there is the potential for success here.

Cheers

Ian

7 comments:

Peter said...

Hi Ian,

Good to meet up again at the GFTU Equality Reps event yesterday - I thought it went very well.

This is an interesting development and the work of the NUJ here sounds interesting too (please e-mail anything you have on this).

I am not sure how well this might translate to the UK however.

Maybe if we were swamped with younger, tech-savvy members there could be some room for this type of development.

I tend to think sadly that the UK offers a model that is fairly stale and slow to change.

Perhaps if we could introduce this model to new members and work with outfits like the BPO union for new ideas it could work.

I can't see me being involed in an e-regional council event in my lifetime!

Thanks

Pete

BPO said...

Dear Ian,

Thank You for your kind words about our initiative. We are not India centric but BPO centric and global in intent & planning. If one looks carefully the landscape is changing. 'How' people express themselves and 'Where' is of greater relevance. As a case in point look at Orkut or Youtube etc. BPO Union as an eUnion is just an idea whose time has come - we are merely latching on to something that was always there. The difference is in intricate planning, knowing our scape well and of course being brave-hearts.

Thank again for taking time to reflect on our effort. We truly appreciate it.

regards,
Chief
(BPO Union 2.0)
bpounion@gmail.com
bpounion.wordpress.com

Ian Manborde said...

Dear Colleague,

Thank you very much for your input into this discussion.

It is very interesting that you see your interests within a global context which makes sense of course given the multinational activity of BPO.

It wonderful that amongst the qualities you see the union as having you also recognise yourselves as having 'brave hearts'.

Trade unions organising within the context of globalisation certainly need this and I wish you and and your colleagues in the e-union good luck.

Ian

Del said...

I can see this kind of thing working in India - not so much the UK.

People in the UK want services and want to take an issue to workplace reps. As you said in your peice the Indian workers employed by BPO are young graduates who are use to working with IT and would expect there to be an e-union.

The UK lot won't be fobbed off with a e-based services.

It is a good idea though to focus on shareholders.

UNITE has launched a similar strategy in partnership with the SEIU. In particular they want to focus on pension funds.

There was a good piece in the Guardian last wee - you should check it out.

Del A

BPO said...

Hi,

Thank You everybody - we welcome your comments and critics on this new effort. Every new perspective gives us a new insight into things that we may or may not have attended to. Lets fill you in on some more that's been happening:

Would you be surprised if we told you that at least 2 established (large) Unions from UK have contacted us to know more on our model and how it may be applicable to them. In fact one of them has even offered to pay us for advice - we on our part are happy to share with them everything we know for no charge.

Times are changing faster than we may think or react to. The way we have had global media interest in this model (it'll all come out in the next 6-8 weeks) we feel that the discussion will spill open to the world soon. We shall then have more critics and support - both are equally welcome.

We are also engaged in Research by 4 'top' global universities, and their celebrated researchers (professors) who have active interest int he field of BPO.

If there's so much of interest we feel that people much more intelligent and experienced than us share our excitement over a new medium of expression for 'collective bargaining by employees' ...

Regards,
Chief
(BPO Union 2.0)
bpounion@gmail.com
bpounion.wordpress.com

Neil said...

An interesting development in India.

Can this be transposed to the UK? No.

We have effectively lost the battle here and UK TU members want formal 'services' and quite rightly will pursue claims of negligence against unions that fail them.

Although I shouldn't say this the recent decision on GMB v Allen is a vindication of a poor union delivery on a critically important issue affecting poorly paid women.

If this has been men, and more higher paid 'skilled' blokes this case wouldn't have arisen.

GMB v Allen is a stain on the good record of the union movement. It is not at all surprising that, although other unions could have fallen to this legal claim, that bizarre outfit the GMB led the way in shaming the movement.

TGWURep

Jaswant said...

Hi All,

The second post from 'Chief' is very interesting.

The fact that two unions from the UK have approached them and offered cash for their 'magic secret' is very interesting.

I am a bit more hopeful that some of the old-timers that vent their spleen on this blog.

The world is up for grabs - we just need to work together to create the ideas and methods to do it.

Good Luck BPO Union 2.0

Jas Singh