Satyam will be humane to its bench workers

When redundancies are made during economic slowdowns businesses inevitably lose the skills and experience that has helped them grow during good times.

When redundancies are made during economic slowdowns businesses inevitably lose the skills and experience that has helped them grow during good times.

This is unquestionably the case for Indian IT suppliers who have won customers because of their highly skilled and motivated workers. These companies have thousands of workers "on the bench" who are paid retainers when there is no work and a full salary when there is.

The economic uncertainty has put this model under stress and bench workers are losing their jobs.

However one Indian supplier, Satyam, says it will look after its bench workers by offering them "umbilical" in the form of a continued retainer while there is no work.

Som Sarma, who heads up Satyam's UK and Ireland business, says it wants to make cuts in a "humane way" and, at the same time, to protect its future business opportunities.

"In good times the bench is used to make sure there are no delivery problems in good times. Unfortunately the same bench is a liability when the markets go down."

He said up to 15% of workers at most Indian suppliers are on the bench. This has been as high as 35% at some companies.

"We have been hit by the slowdown and because of this there are certain parts of the bench that we will have to look at bringing the costs down. We could be inhumane and fire employees but we do not want to do this because these are the people that make the company function."

Satyam has agreed to pay these workers while they are waiting for work. "But if they find another job they are free to go," says Sarma.

When Satyam wins new business they can come back on full time. "We want these people to come back because our customers want them."

Robert Morgan, director at Hamilton Bailey which advises outsourcing service providers, says this is a good idea if a business can afford it. "You are in effect buying loyalty and I think there are still enough opportunities for good workers to get work with other suppliers."

"A social commitment is also a good advert for Satyam as a company and will look good to its customers," he said.

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