Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Satyam staff weigh legal options

With their internet connections snapped, their office access cards to be taken away and all entitlements and reimbursement of expenses discontinued, Satyam employees who have been moved to the virtual pool are now considering moving the court to challenge the company’s decision to force a huge chunk of the workforce to sit at home.

Employees who spoke to this newspaper said that some of them had already approached lawyers to consider their legal options that they could use against the firm.

"I approached a lawyer to see if I had a case. While the lawyer did say there was a case in our claim, he also said it would be better that more people moved the court together to make the case stronger," said a beleaguered employee who was part of the Emergency and Health Management Unit, that was handling the CSR activity of Satyam.

Of the 560 associates in this unit, 500 were moved to Virtual Pool Policy (VPP) and the employees are now questioning that if they were taking care of Satyam’s corporate social responsibility exercise, how could they be termed non-billable when the unit wasn’t expected to be profit-making in the first place.

Then there are other senior associates who said that the whole virtual pool exercise was humiliating and that employees had been picked irrespective of whether they were billable or non-billable. "We are planning to approach the court and trying to figure out a legal course of action against Satyam management. There is no basis for moving people into the virtual bench because neither were seniors such as team leaders or managers consulted and nor were there any team meetings regarding this. They sprang a surprise on us," said an associate who was with a project until recently.

Currently with Satyam's e-support unit, the associate said that of the 200 employees in this division 125 had been shifted to the virtual pool. Associates pointed out that many of them were also on projects and that the exercise seemed to be aimed at removing the junior level work force.

A highly placed source in the company said the employees may indeed have a point. "We just posted profits. What’s our reason to do this then,’’ he asked, adding that if 100 top ‘non-billable ’ associates could be retained in the name of key resources , why couldn’t more people be kept on its regular payrolls.

Pertinently, employees who will now be on the virtual pool bench said that after the scam broke, the Satyam management took pains in explaining to them that the company would bounce back and that they should have faith in the company. "Some of us had offers at that time and we did not take them up hoping that something better was awaiting us here. Now we regret staying back," said an associate, who had an offer from a smaller IT firm a couple of months ago but chose to stay with "bigger brand" Satyam.

Associates said they were now trying to approach more and more employees who have been moved to the virtual pool to move the court collectively. They said that many associates were scared of taking this legal step just yet given that they did not have another job in hand and their only source of income in the next few months would be the basic salary that Satyam would be giving.

Nevertheless, associates point out that a good read of the VPP is enough to indicate that the management has no intention of taking them back and that their last few days in Satyam are stress-ridden. And one of the many reasons causing stress is the freeze on the payment of balance EMIs under the company car scheme of employees in the virtual pool.

In its virtual pool policy, Satyam has stated either the associate make a payment of the balance EMIs and get the car transferred on his or her name or they can even continue with the car scheme but the EMI will be put on hold during the virtual pool leave period. Associates say that some of them are considering paying up the balance EMIs as against waiting for the company to call them back. "But it’s not possible to cough up Rs 1 to Rs 1.5 lakh in a couple of days," said an associate, pointing out that in the case of employees who had spent a few years in the company there were also other loans they had to clear. There was much apprehension even about a round two of this virtual pool exercise.

Employees who are still with projects and "billable" said they feared being moved to the virtual pool bench once their projects were over. "There aren't many new projects coming and so it would be difficult for the company to accommodate us once our project is over," said another associate, whose project would possibly end next month.

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