Tata Consultancy Services, one of India’s largest companies, firmly denies that the IT workers it has provided to work on major projects in Norway like DNB’s new Vipps payment system are being exploited. Tata’s management has now responded to reports by Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that Tata’s workers at DNB and other large Norwegian companies are working 14 to 16 hours a day in violation of Norwegian labour laws.
“We have nothing to hide,” Vikramjit Grewal, who heads Tata’s operations in Norway, told NRK following its reports on working conditions for the consultants hired in from Tata by Norway’s biggest bank and major retailer and wholesaler NorgesGruppen.
The reports have been linked to concerns expressed by some of DNB’s own employees, who have observed how the Tata workers are on the job at DNB’s Oslo headquarters early and still there late into the evening. That led to labour organizations expressing concerns as well and, ultimately, an investigation into allegations of social dumping now underway by Norwegian state labour authorities from the regulatory agency Arbeidstilsynet.
“We are cooperating with Arbeidstilsynet and are open with them,” Grewal of Tata Norge told NRK on national radio Thursday morning. He claimed Tata was giving the labour regulators “all the information” they request.
He admitted that Tata was uneasy about the investigation into the hours spent by Tata workers on DNB’s Vipps project. He confirmed that “all our clients (like DNB) are very concerned” about the allegations of social dumping and expect them to be rejected. Grewal also claimed that Tata provides its workers from India with a place to live and pays for their children to be sent to school. “It can often cost us more to have our own people here than to employ Norwegians,” he claimed.
Grewal denied Tata’s IT experts work in a culture of fear and are subject to exploitation. He called such allegations untrue and unfair, claiming that many young workers from India are keen to prove themselves and actually want to work long days on “exciting projects” abroad. He suggested that computer engineers and other high-tech experts in the late 20s are happy to have the chance to work hard and “show their ambition.” Since they lack their own social network while in Oslo, they end up spending most of their time on the job, he said.
Grewal also pointed to internal surveys of Tata workers showing a high degree of job satisfaction and claimed Tata manages to retain those it hires. If Tata’s workers in Norway are unhappy, he claimed, they can simply quit because the labour market for such highly skilled tech workers “is good” and they “wouldn’t have a problem” getting a new job.
That’s debatable given the difficulties many foreign workers have in Norway, where their labour and residence permission is often tied to their employer. If they quit or lose their jobs with that employer, they often lose their right to remain in Norway, nor are they eligible for unemployment benefits.
Some of Norway’s large labour organizations within trade union confederation LO have voiced their suspicions of social dumping, with the Indian IT workers putting in much longer hours for allegedly lower pay than their Norwegian counterparts would. Norwegian unions have long fought against outsourcing and the types of arragements DNB and NorgesGruppen have with Tata, claiming it can undermine Norwegian labour standards and pay levels. The Norwegian companies, however, can get projects done at lower cost while also claiming that they can’t find enough qualified Norwegians to do the work.
Grewal claimed that Tata is taking the allegations against it seriously. Tata has placed more than 500 Indian IT experts at various companies in Norway, with another 40 or so working at Tata’s Norwegian headquarters in Oslo. It’s also in the process of bidding for more contracts at Norwegian companies.
“We are not perfect,” Grewal told NRK, “and if it’s shown that we have made some mistakes in relation to Norwegian regulations, we will immediately make changes.” He also conceded that Tata may have “underestimated” the differences between Norwegian and Indian work cultures.
“Things take time in Norway, which is more consensus-oriented, and in India we’re more formal,” Grewal said. “Norwegians value perhaps a more balanced life away from work. Indians put a priority on work ahead of free time in order to obtain a higher standard of living.” He added that Tata has now understood that it must adapt better “to the Norwegian reality.”