Critical Perspectives on Work and Employment in Globalizing India



This book showcases issues of work and employment in contemporary India through a critical lens, serving as a systematic, scholarly and rigorous resource which provides an alternate view to the glowing metanarrative of the subcontinent’s ongoing economic growth in today’s globalized world. Critical approaches ensure that divergent and marginalized voices are highlighted, promoting a more measured perspective of entrenched standpoints. In casting social reality differently, a quest for solutions that reshape current dynamics is triggered. The volume spans five thematic areas, subsuming a range of economic sectors. India is a pre-eminent destination for offshoring, underscoring the relevance of global production networks (Theme 1). Yet, the creation of jobs has not transformed employment patterns in the country but rather accentuated informalization and casualization (Theme 2). Indeed, even India’s ICT-related sectors, perceived as mascots of modernity and vehicles for upward mobility, raise questions about the extent of social upgrading (Theme 3). Nonetheless, these various developments have not been accompanied by collective action—instead; there is growing evidence of diminished pluralistic employment relations strategies (Theme 4). Emergent concerns about work and employment such as gestational surrogacy and expatriate experiences attest to the evolving complexities associated with offshoring (Theme 5).

Chapters (15)

Globalization has been normalized as a dominant ideology that extols the virtues of neoliberalism such as individualism, efficiency, competition and minimal state intervention through instruments of deregulation, liberalization and privatization. Transnational chains increasingly make markets, sets prices and determine the worldwide distribution of labour. This has radically altered the nature of work, the labour–capital relationship and the composition of the working class. Increasing transnationalization has contributed to a growing unevenness of labour standards and “a race to the bottom”, posing a significant challenge to trade unions. Thus, given this context of the neoliberal project, critical perspectives have greater relevance now as compared to earlier, with the need to focus on attaining a more equitable resource distribution. Critical perspectives on work and employment call into question the established social order and are particularly pertinent to India. The “Make in India” programme has become the cornerstone for India’s development plan. To achieve this, the Government of India has focused its efforts on attracting foreign direct investment (FDI) and facilitating the ease of doing business. However, the essential element of the “Make in India” vision is labour. Taking a critical view of these policy changes, it is clear that the “Make in India” programme is a low-road approach that seeks to revise labour laws and exempt industry from their ambit, resulting in the further informalization and precariousness of the Indian workforce. Terms such as “Make in India” and “Shramev Jayate” and issues related to the consolidation of labour laws, employment generation, trusting citizens and cooperative federalism are used by the government in a bid to camouflage ongoing complexities associated with India’s workforce.
Global production networks (GPNs) are the norms in many sectors of developing economies like India. High-value crops like cotton are seen as candidates for exploitation of global market opportunities for these countries through their insertion into GPNs. But the understanding of the implications of this incorporation is extremely limited in terms of research and documentation, especially from waged farm worker perspective. It is argued in the GPN literature that GPNs can be vehicles for achieving primary producer and worker well-being, but it is important to recognize that at the same time, traditional pressures of costs and efficiency in competitive markets and poor institutional governance can also lead to a situation of “a race to the bottom” in labour standards in farms and factories. In this context, this chapter reviews the state of the art in the Indian cotton sector from a GPN perspective. It places the Indian cotton sector in a GPN framework, assesses the organization and functioning of the cotton GPN, through the lens of institutional theory, from a cotton farm worker perspective, based on secondary sources of data, literature and some insights from field studies. It finds that there are many issues in the cotton GPN like poor wages, labour conditions and gender aspects which call for attention, except in situations of sustainability initiatives like Better Cotton (BC), organic cotton or fair trade cotton. But even in such cases, it is the smallholder focus which tends to dominate while waged worker issues are left unattended or, rather, perpetuated by GPN dynamics and strategies.
Indian policymakers are now centrally concerned with the future of manufacturing as the basis for economic development, prosperity and rising living standards. The automotive industry is pivotal to this transformation. All global carmakers now have major investments in India, often operating alongside major Indian transnational corporations. Key automotive clusters are in the National Capital Region, the Chennai Metropolitan Region and the “Chakan corridor” near the city of Pune, as well as emerging clusters and production facilities in several other parts of the country. Much of the optimism about the auto industry flows from its historically transformative role in Western Europe, the USA and Japan where it sets standards in quality manufacturing, technology, wages and employment relations. Understandably, some have predicted that the expansion of auto production in India should lead to similar “high road” labour relations, based on high wages, long-term employment contracts, stable career paths, social protection and enterprise-based benefits. But the evidence suggests otherwise. The Indian auto industry has instead reproduced “low road” employment relations based upon high wage inequality and employment relations that are over-reliant upon labour contractors. Serious industrial conflict has been common. Given the global developmental promise of the auto industry, why has this happened? Critiquing the global production networks framework from an uneven and combined development perspective, this chapter argues that the answer lies in a combination of India’s distinctive national and regional norms, social relations and institutions with the global carmakers’ governance practices.
Over the past two decades, offshoring and the relocation of economic activities from the global north to the global south have prompted diverse efforts to describe, map and analyse developments. The global commodity chain (GCC) research of Gereffi and Korzeniewicz (Commodity chains and global capitalism, 1994) stimulated the formulation of related but distinct frameworks (global value chains/GVCs and global production networks/GPNs) to understand the ways in which manufacturing and services are integrated while being geographically dispersed. Taylor (Offshoring and working conditions in remote work, 2010a) applied these GVC and GPN frameworks to the call/contact centre chain which entwined the sites of “remote” service delivery in India with the location of corporate decision-making and final customers in the home countries of the USA, the UK, and elsewhere. This chapter, developing these insights, utilizes the GVC and GPN frameworks to undertake an empirical study that examines work and employment in Indian business process outsourcing (BPO) industry post-recession. The study addresses the lacuna of published work on post-crisis Indian BPO by examining the dynamics of work and employment in three contrasting servicing chain relationships that span the spectrum of offshoring in the Indian BPO industry—an Indian third-party organization, a global service provider and a captive (i.e. in-house) operation. GVC concepts are employed to inform analysis and explain developments and differences. Findings demonstrate the pressures on business strategy and employee experiences of work and employment resulting from these organizations’ respective positioning within global service supply chains during the period 2012–14.
In India, the past few decades witnessed a growing process of “informalization of work within the formal sector”. The most alarming aspect of this trend is the process of informalization within the public/government sector, where the governments (both at the centre and states) are found to increase the share of unprotected workers in the total workforce. Excessive use of employees under project mode, employment of temporary workers on continuous basis, outsourcing of non-core operations to service providers and engagement of workers through placement agencies/intermediaries are common practices followed by state-run institutions. With all these transitions, the role of governments as promoters of decent and protected jobs in the organized sector is gradually waning, as the state also participates actively in the rat race for cost-cutting measures like any other employer. This scenario, juxtaposed with the other ongoing changes in the state’s role (e.g. the thrust on “reforming” labour laws for enhancing labour flexibilities, reduced social sector spending and so on), suggests that there has been a double laxity on the part of state, both as employer and as the ultimate regulator and promoter of decent employment. Based on secondary data and available empirical evidence, the present chapter elaborates these concerns of informalization of employment in the public sector.
All human society produces waste matter which has no value: in the circuits of capital in production, distribution, consumption, the production of labour and the reproduction of society. Some waste matter remains without value indefinitely, and other regains value in reuse, recycling and reprocessing. India’s waste sector is one of the fastest growing in the world. This chapter analyses the livelihoods and life worlds generated by liquid and solid wastes in the circuits of capital of a small town in South India. It combines the analysis of 84 such livelihoods with four workers’ own descriptions, chosen to represent the livelihoods and life worlds of the public sector salariat, informal wage work, self-employment and petty capital. The workforce is disproportionately Dalit and Adivasi. Conditions are dangerous, and the work is extremely hard. Formal contracts prove incomplete and informal labour depends on patronage, discretion and bonding. This chapter concludes with reflections on incomes and social stigma in this sector.
Until now, classificatory schemas of economies have differentiated countries by the character of their formal economic systems, such as by their levels of gross domestic product (GDP) or gross national income (GNI) per capita, whether they are control, market or mixed economies, or liberal or coordinated varieties of capitalism. Based on this, India has been depicted as an Asian tiger pursuing a market or liberal variety of capitalism. This would be appropriate if the majority of employment globally was in the formal economy. However, this is not the case. Consequently, the aim of this chapter is to develop a classification of economies according to the degree and intensity of employment in the informal economy and to reconsider the depiction of India’s economy. This reveals that India finds itself at the top of this new global league table that classifies economies by the degree and intensity of informalization. If India is to move away from its current position at the top of the league table of countries by their degree and intensity of informalization, moreover, then it reveals that there is a need to pursue wider economic and social policy measures associated with development and greater state intervention in the form of higher tax rates and social transfers to protect workers from poverty. This sits in stark contrast to the remedies currently celebrated by the Asian tiger status which intimates that the higher performance of the country is due to its liberal market-oriented variety of capitalism.
The ICT-ITES (information and communication technology–information technology-enabled services) sector has been a major driver of economic growth and employment creation in India. Extensive research has been conducted in the past decade on access to this sector, employment terms and conditions and opportunities for upward labour mobility. Surprisingly, few studies have focused on the workers indirectly engaged in the ICT-ITES sector and whether and how they are able to benefit from growth of the sector. ICT-ITES firms primarily engage temporary and contractual workers through staffing agencies or labour contractors. In particular, low-end support services (viz. security, housekeeping and cab services) are availed of on a contractual basis through specialized service providers. Based on empirical data collected in Mumbai, and using the concepts of “servile class” or “service underclass” (see Scott, A world in emergence: Cities and regions in the 21st century, 2012; Standing, The precariat: The new dangerous class, 2011), this chapter examines how employment conditions and labour standards are changing in these support services through servicing the ICT-ITES sector. Whereas the ICT-ITES sector provides a major stimulus for growth and economic upgrading in these support services, its workers firmly remain a part of the (urban) working poor. Herewith, this chapter contributes to a better understanding of the labour flexibility regime in urban India and highlights the complexities and implications of contractual work for the low-skill, low-paid job service segments.
Given Friedman’s assumption that the “world is flat”, especially from the perspective of transnationally operating IT (information technology) companies, upward mobility should long be achieved, in this part of the economy. As a matter of fact, however, even software companies subscribing to an equal distribution of labour, responsibility and influence between IT workers in different world regions tend to keep Indian software engineers in a position in which they function as “the jack of all trades and master of none”, as one of our interviewees has put it. What are the conditions for and impediments to an upgrading of IT (compatible) skills in India, then, which might pave the way for an upward mobility of the employees in question? Based upon empirical case studies in one German software company and its Indian subsidiary as well as in one Indian software company and its German subsidiary, it will be argued in this chapter that, in the Indian IT industry, social upgrading is impeded by a complex interplay between state policies (with regard to higher education), corporate policies (with respect to skills, careers and employment) and, finally, the ways in which Indian IT workers plan and organize their (working) lives.
Online labour markets (OLMs) are new global workplaces that represent the latest wave of offshoring. Indians have a strong presence on OLMs, being freelancers on both international and national platforms, adding to the country’s large and growing informal workforce. Through a critical hermeneutic phenomenological approach, this chapter examines the experiences of Indian freelancers on Upwork using the lens of decent work. The findings underscore that though full-time freelancers report some sense of empowerment in terms of income, quality of life, long-term investments and upward mobility, career development, work-life balance, link with the West and platform checks and facilities, there are decent work deficits across the four hallmarks of full and productive employment, rights at work ensuring human dignity, social protection and social dialogue. Effective pursuit of the decent work agenda on OLMs calls for counterhegemonic initiatives through global social movement unionism that reconciles labour differences across the North-South divide.
After the adoption of economic reforms, trade unions in India find themselves excluded from the political processes and institutions that shape labour market policies of the state. Equally, the exigencies of global capitalism have as some argue weakened the collective bargaining power of trade unions. In this context, trade unions are being urged by policy analysts and academics alike to engage in cooperative relationship with employers. It is suggested that labour–management cooperation or social partnership will offer Indian trade unions a route to revive their fortunes. Using survey data from workplace trade union representatives of one of the largest national union federations in India, namely the Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC), this paper examines whether the policy prescription of social partnership has any merits for trade union revival. Findings indicate that despite a favourable legislative framework that may support enterprise-level social partnership, the ground realities of workplace industrial relations characterized by increasing employer hostility towards unions render social partnership an ineffective route for trade union revival. These findings are discussed within the context of judicial interventions in employment law and political affiliations of trade unions. This paper suggests union mobilization as an alternative strategy to social partnership for union revival.
The industrial relations (IR) framework in India is centred around the formal industrial employment model wherein employees bargain and negotiate with their employer through their trade union(s) and the government plays a significant mediatory role. This legally arranged framework of IR excludes informal workers, who are normally not engaged in a workplace-based industrial employment, from its purview. Such an orientation has led trade unions enjoying legislative safeguard to primarily organize industrial employees on the basis of their workplace engagement. The narrow trade union focus on industrial employment has left informal workers’ concerns largely unrepresented in traditional IR. In this backdrop, while concerns of deteriorating worker power because of declining trade union membership and influence occupies IR scholars, informal workers innovative organizing strategies and resultant worker power remains largely unnoticed. In this chapter, I conceptualize this subtler source of worker power that has been gaining strength in India. I conceptualize the power generation capacity of what I term as workers’ aggregations. In the workers’ aggregation variety of collective action, unlike trade unions, power is per se not dependent on the numerical strength of the workers’ organization; power emanates from the diffused range of functions and relations that these workers’ aggregations undertake and sustain. In this chapter, I argue that the future of effective and sustainable IR in India lies in taking cognizance of these organizations and their modus operandi, while also recognizing the changing nature of bargaining (involving mainly the state) in economic relations.
Dominated by a strong state sector for the first four decades after independence, alongside a relatively corporatist approach to labour relations focused on formal labour, India has experienced obvious restructuring of its economy since the mid-1990s. This has been particularly in terms of increasing market orientation, deregulation and privatization, the emergence of internationally competitive industrial and technical sectors and growing integration with the global economy, in conjunction with rapid economic growth and very considerable, growing disparity of poverty and wealth. These changes have had an important federal dimension and substantial geographical imbalances, and also, the drive towards greater market domination of the economy has been protracted and contested. Regarding the impact of these changes on labour relations, the following aspects are critical: the formal/informal labour distinction, the ongoing demands for legal reform in favour of employers, the challenge of collective representation of informal workers, the question and dilemmas of political party allegiances of trade unions, the significance of special economic zones, the diverse pattern and periodic intensity of labour relations confrontation, and the impact of central government policies and ascendency of the Bharatiya Janata Party.
When mainstream theories around globalization and outsourcing analyse the increased mobility of goods, labour, technology and capital across borders or reflect upon the changing dynamics of nation states and neoliberal policies, gender and reproduction are seldom a focus. In this chapter, I invert the frame to analyse how global processes affect and get affected by the most intimate of relations—those around gender and reproduction—by unpacking the case of gestational commercial surrogacy in India. What can we learn about labour markets, nation states, globalization, gender and reproduction from studying the encounter between them within this remarkable new form of outsourcing? Prior to the booming market in commercial surrogacy in India, surrogacy was theorized wholly in Euro-American contexts. With globalization and the spread of new reproductive technologies, this market has started spreading to almost all countries in the global south. India, which liberalized its economy in the 1990s, has emerged as a key player and, at the time of writing, ranks ahead of the USA/United States of America as the world’s largest supplier of gestational surrogates. The challenge now is to invert the existing theoretical paradigm around surrogacy and innovate a frame that fits new empirical contexts in the global south. Instead of discussing surrogacy in abstraction as a moral dilemma, in this chapter, I analyse it as an empirical reality and a new form of reproductive labour market emerging with globalization. Finally, I highlight a fundamentally paradoxical characteristic of commercial surrogacy, which resonates with other forms of reproductive labour such as domestic work and sex work. On the one hand, commercial surrogacy becomes a powerful challenge to the age-old dichotomy constructed between production and reproduction. Women’s reproductive capacities are valued and monetized outside of the so-called private sphere. As surrogates, women use their bodies, wombs and sometimes breasts, as instruments of labour. But just as commercial surrogacy subverts these gendered dichotomies, it simultaneously reifies them. When reproducing bodies of women become the only source, requirement and product of a labour market and fertility becomes the only asset women can use to earn wages, women essentially get reduced to their reproductive capacities, ultimately reifying their historically constructed role in the gender division of labour.
Indian IT/ITES (information technology/information technology-enabled services) organizations often portray their espousal of an “open” work culture including flatter and flexible structures, comparing this progressive organizational design with the rigid authoritarian and hierarchical structure of traditional Indian workplaces. Yet, even Indian IT/ITES firms operating in the Netherlands fail to truly internalize and enact Western industrialism. Instead, they continue to harbour and exemplify the typical features of Indian workplaces such as high power distance, politicized career progression paths and lack of transparency, reflecting a feudalistic mindset. Far from homogenizing in the global business context, Indian organizations hold on to their ethos when it comes to dealing with Indian employees. This does not mean that we support Hofstede’s static dimension of culture. First, we found that the Dutch or European employees were treated differently in Indian organizations especially in matters of work–life balance. Second, given that outsourcing is a low-cost strategy, many Indian managers had to delegate responsibility to subordinates in order to manage a large number of projects. Third, the interaction between the employees of different cultures highlighted the discrepancies in the discourse of Indian organizations—an aspect which becomes more glaring to Indian onsite employees who then want a better work–life balance and a more consultative and egalitarian relationship with their Indian managers, failing which they moved to Dutch organizations. Even so, rather than culture being static, interaction of employees from different cultures results in reformulating set values, meanings and norms. Finally, though employees welcomed changes to their work life, they were quite conservative with regard to changes in their social life.
... This argument has been extended to a broader historical and cultural critique by Rose (1999), who traces the processes by which psychology shaped the notion of the individual worker over two centuries to create the idea of a manageable, self-motivated worker. Critical scholars have charted consequences of neoliberalism in W-O psychology that range from its influence upon the specific constructs that comprise the knowledge base of the discipline -such as psychological contracts (Cullinane & Dundon, 2006) and idiosyncratic deal-making (Hornung & Höge, 2019) to its shaping of large-scale systems that contextualise it, such as the structures of work and employment in India (Noronha & D'Cruz, 2017). ...
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This paper argues that critical perspectives have constituted a marginal yet continued presence in work and organizational (W-O) psychology and calls for a reflexive taking stock of these perspectives to ground a critical research agenda. We argue that critical W-O psychology has been positioned between a psychology literature with limited development of critical perspectives, and an emergent critical management literature that has allowed their selective development. This in-between position has allowed critical W-O psychology to persist, albeit in a fragmented form, while limiting its potential for theoretical and applied impact. We use this diagnosis to reflect on how critical perspectives can best develop from within W-O psychology. We end with a call for developing a critical movement unique to the current historical moment, drawing upon without repeating the experiences of its home disciplines, in a future oriented and reflexive psychology research agenda.
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The impact of platforms in the global South is under-researched. This paper analyses the role of platforms in relation to “institutional voids”: absences or shortcomings of formal institutions that can create shortfalls in the operation of markets. Through a mix of primary and secondary research, this paper studies gig economy platforms like Uber and Upwork that digitise labour market functions. It finds that platforms do beneficially fill voids: creating new and, in some ways, better jobs. But their digital void-filling concentrates power and constrains worker behaviour. Simultaneously, platforms maintain or create institutional voids, leading to power asymmetries, over-competition between workers, platform opportunism, and job insecurity and precarity. The paper ends by suggesting practical actions to address these downsides of platformisation, and by identifying some future research priorities.
Despite the increasing speed of digital innovation, governments should invest in education and life programmes to fully reap the benefits of the digital economy.
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This paper employs poetic inquiry as a form of interpretive and aesthetic inquiry into the meaning and experience of reproductive tourism. The context is an ethnographic study of the fertility services industry in Cancun. Drawing upon interviews with the owner of a medical tourism company and a doctor who runs a large fertility clinic, we adopt varied strategies of poetic inquiry as a means of listening deeply to the stories of participants. In particular, we ask who gets to tell the story, how is the story told and why does it matter? This is profoundly personal and political work. As the poems and our reflections on them reveal, we remain uncomfortable deriving any straightforward scholarly conclusions but rather see ourselves as engaged in work that is intended to be both critical and creative. © 2017 The Author(s). This open access article is distributed under a Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) 4.0 license.
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