Interview: Cowboys and Indians
Industrial: Seven Deadly Sins
Unions: The IT Factor
Politics: Bargain Basement
Environment: An Inconvenient Hoax
Corporate: Two Sides
International: Unfair Dismissals
History: A Stitch in Time
Review: The Wind that Shakes the Barley
The Road to Bangalore
The IT Factor
Steve's boss had a surprise for him when he turned up for work on his 46th birthday in July.
"He told me I was being made redundant, that the work I do was being sent offshore to China," the ASU member recalled.
Steve was a computer operator at IBM, working on the Westpac account.
After 10 years' service at Westpac, he moved to IBM in 2000 when the bank signed a 10-year IT outsourcing deal with the global computer giant.
"Six years down the track we're being told this account is now being run from China," he says.
"I'm surprised they'd take the risk of sending this work to China. In my job I had access to a lot of sensitive information. I could easily look up John Howard's account details.
"There's also the potential for major disruptions. One little mistake could stuff up Westpac's BPay system, or direct entry - which would leave people without their pensions."
Outsourcing to technology suppliers like IBM, Computer Services Corporation (CSC) and Fujitsu has been the name of the game in IT services for the past decade.
However in recent years a more disturbing trend has emerged. Outsourcing has become a stepping stone to IT jobs moving offshore.
"What we are seeing now is that outsourcing makes it easier to move jobs offshore. The jobs are already out of sight," says ASU secretary, Sally McManus.
Offshoring is gathering pace in Australia and abroad, with the finance, communications and IT sectors most affected.
According to figures from the World Trade Organisation, the global market for offshore IT and business process services, in 2005, was worth over $60 billion.
Data on how many Australian jobs have already gone overseas is unclear. Best estimates suggest several thousands. Without urgent government intervention, the trend will gather speed.
Recent OECD research found 19.4 percent of all work performed in Australia could potentially be done offshore. This equates to 1.9 million jobs.
"There's a common misconception that the jobs sent offshore are semi-skilled 'help desk' positions that require little or no training," says McManus. "This is far from the truth.
"The majority of IT jobs being off-shored require a great deal of training and certification, with many requiring university qualifications."
"The only safe jobs are those that require a physical presence on-site. If you don't have a physical presence then your job could be under threat."
Camillo Villafranca was a computer operator for 22 years, first at BHP, then CSC after it took over BHP's IT functions.
His job as a work order analyst for clients including BHP Billiton, Onesteel and Bluescope Steel involved logging customer request and creating inventory data to track the progress of the order.
He was made redundant in July, with the news jobs with no 'customer interface' were going to India.
"The job I did could theoretically be done anywhere in the English-speaking world, it's a matter of learning and following procedures and processes. But our years of experience should have counted for something," Villafranca said.
While Villafranca left to seek new opportunities in Italy, some of his colleagues stayed behind to train the Indian people who would take their jobs. Four came into Australia to learn the system, then went back to India to train 40 others.
"It was a crazy situation," he said. "I really believe it's up to the clients of these corporations to demand the jobs stay in Australia."
Qantas, which trades on its true-blue Aussie image, has already outsourced some of its IT functions to suppliers like Telstra and IBM. Now it is poised to offshore some of the remaining jobs.
Late last year, Qantas announced an IT Applications Services Review, to look at the possible outsourcing of IT application development, enhancement and support services.
Qantas has since short-listed two Indian-based companies to take over the work, indicating the work now being done in-house will not be just outsourced, but offshored.
Of 800 IT jobs in Qantas, the ASU believes between 250 and 400 are under threat, although Qantas refuses to confirm which areas are being targeted. The employees at risk include programmers, website developers and application support staff, with a typical length of service of 10 years and salaries of $45,000 to $80,000.
Qantas was being secretive about the program, with little information passed on to employees, one member complained.
"My personal beef is not that it's outsourcing, but that it's also off-shoring," the ASU member said by email. "At least, with the previous (outsourcing) programs, skilled employees were given the chance of job offers within Telstra, IBM etc or the choice of redundancy. Basically, those skills remained working on Qantas accounts within those organisations, ... (now) it does seem certain the work will move to India, which seems an outrage when there are highly competent, experienced people in this country."
Unions are urging the Federal Government to take heed of public opposition to offshoring and protect Australian jobs and industries.
Last month, an ASU delegation travelled to Canberra to brief Opposition Leader Kim Beazley and shadow ministers about the importance of protecting IT jobs.
"If the thousands of Information and Communications Technology jobs that are due to be exported become a reality, Australia risks losing its capacity to compete in this sector, as we risk dulling the capabilities of our ICT labour force through under-utilisation," said delegation leader Linda White, Assistant National Secretary of the ASU.
"The Federal Government needs to identify the skilled ICT jobs that add value to the Australian economy and then provide an incentive for companies to keep them in Australia.
"This will have the effect of growing our own ICT sector instead of shrinking it as the current government seems intent on doing."
Even for those who don't lose their jobs, the offshore charge is affecting conditions in the industry. Every year since 2003, the real wages of Australian IT graduates has declined.
As part of his redundancy package from IBM, Steve attended a number of classes with a career consultant, where he saw plenty of people in his position.
"There'd be 30 people in the class, 25 were from IBM. There were people with 35 or 40 years experience. Some have been able to get another job, others you just know won't be able to find anything," he says.
Steve's one of the lucky ones. He's found a new job, but the salary's $30,000 less than he was earning at IBM.
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