Growth And Gumption


Business World, April 11, 2011

Musharraf Zamiri, 30, a physics graduate and a staffer with a Kolkata-based temping (temporary staffing) firm was placed by his employer with an advertising agency, where he had to maintain electronic billboards. One day, as Zamiri climbed a 30-ft billboard, a car knocked off the ladder, leaving him stranded atop. He called the ad agency for help, but the agency said he was not its employee.

The temp company directed him to its headquarters in another city. “Finally, the fire brigade came after five hours,” says Zamiri, who quit the next day. This rather comic incident exemplifies what ails India’s Rs 5,000 crore-temping industry, which employs about 600,000 people and is adding more at a rapid rate of 20-25 per cent every year. Zamiri’s experience is at the heart of the key question the industry has been trying to answer while rummaging through India’s numerous labour laws: who is a temp? The industry itself has gone into an introspection mode as it enters its 19th year of existence. But first the raison d’être of the industry, which is best explained through some mean advertising the industry indulged in its early years in the US in the 1960s. Attacking the established management concepts of the time, it said regular employees were “dead wood” and were “choking profitability”. As a solution, temping companies offered staffers on a need basis, offering flexibility and lower costs. It caught on.

PARALLEL LINES: Harsha U., 24, now works with a logistics company in Bangalore, but was a temp with TeamLease for three years. “Practically, I find no difference between a temp and a permanent job,” he says (Bornali B.)

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