UK IT workers betrayed by George Osborne

When the British Coalition government promised to clamp down on immigrant workers who were being exploited at below minimum wage, it is starting to look like it was talking about restaurant chefs – not sorting out the multitude of problems faced by long suffering British IT contractors.

As we reported long ago, big tech business companies in India – such as Infosys and Tata – wield a certain level of influence over parliament. When David Cameron first opened the door to Downing Street, it wasn’t long before Indian industry tycoon, Ratan Tata, pipped most others to an audience. And then was granted a couple more. Indeed, the lingering ghost of the British Empire has been turned on its head as the government wakes up and realises that it needs the emerging superpower far more than the imagined strength of ex-colonial ties would bind them together.

About a year and a half ago, TechEye was one of the few to report on the lingering ICT jobs crises affecting IT workers in the UK. The in-depth run-down is here. But the gist of it is that thousands of IT contractors are out of pocket because business bigwigs are providing cheap labour to import on-site in Britain, rather than going to local qualified candidates, of which there are many. 

Workers were hopeful that the influence of the electorate could at least chip into the stranglehold of lobbyists and big business when the government considered a review. Unfortunately for them, their hopes seem to have been dashed by chancellor George Osborne, who attended the India-UK Joint Economic and Trade Committee (JETCO) with Shri Anand Sharma, India’s Commerce, Industry and Textiles Minister. Vince Cable also attended.

Both parties agreed that there would be a push in investment between the two countries. With this came an agreement that the UK would not alter any of the existing Intra Company Transfer visa laws at least for the next two years. According to a statement issued on the government of India’s Press Information Bureau (PIB), the Coalition also agreed that there would be no salary cap on the transfers. “He [Osborne] acknowledged the contributions of Indian people and praised the performance of Indian companies,” it read. “He [Osborne] added that UK remains keenly interested ingetting highly qualified professionals from India.”

Following a discussion on the “sovereign debt crisis in the Eurozone”, the PIB acknowledged a “fruitful” meeting between Osborne and India’s Finance minister, Shri Pranab Mukherjee, where “issues of mutual interest were discussed”. This seems to be the point where the Coalition decided to make no changes to the ICT visa situation. 

On paper, ICT visas are a way for British companies to employ skilled engineers from abroad. But in practice, the testimonies are quite different. TechEye has heard of workers being forced into shared, cramped accommodation. This would be taken as part of their salaries. ICT workers are encouraged to eat out at restaurants as much as possible and hand in their receipts – which, thanks to a tax loophole, also counts as part of their salaries. As such the workers, it is alleged, are being vastly underpaid for their jobs, work under poor conditions, and take jobs away from well qualified local talent. 

One contractor said of the situation: “It exposes that the government commitments on immigration reduction cannot be met, and it exposes the review of ICT visas, as promised, is a sham.”

Another told TechEye that IT workers in the UK are being “sold down the river by the current government by continuing the previous government’s policies in times of economic hardship.

“Jobs are really needed in this country,” the contractor said. “Not only is this practice very dangerous for employment levels, but it is short sighted as well, all our intellectual property is headed offshore”.

Although currently in work, another IT contractor said he was only in work because a major Indian IT services player was not able to provide someone with the right skill set. Another, the source said, was in work for similar reasons – the services companies get the top priority. 

In an unusual case of whistleblowing, as services workers are often in dicey, insecure positions with their employers, earlier this month, Infosys, an enormous Indian IT services company, was accused of smuggling workers into the United States.