Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Fire the Foreigners First!

As the recession bites deep, this cry has been heard in various parts of the world.

A few weeks ago as Microsoft prepared to slash 5,000 jobs, US Senator Charles Grassley demanded that Microsoft fire all its H1B visa holding employees before a single American national is laid off. Microsoft has been one of the proponents for increasing the number of H1B visas issued each year. To Microsoft’s credit, it must be said that it did not give into Grassley’s demand. At least, it did not do so openly. US laws do not require employers to fire H1B visa holders first before firing employees who are US nationals. The principle is simple. Once a foreigner becomes an employee, s/he is treated like any other employee, even in matters such as layoffs.

Thanks to India’s growing clout, various Indian enterprises too had been hiring foreigners till the recession told hold. India does not have anything comparable to the H1B visa program. Employers can apply to the Indian government for work permits, which are granted, depending on the employer’s stature and the genuineness of the employment contract. One of the Indian businesses which hired foreigners was Jet Airways. When the airline business started to experience turbulence, Jet Airways’ management proposed a salary cut. This was opposed by its employees who demanded that Jet Airways should sack its expat pilots first. The local employees justified this on the grounds that expat pilots apparently get paid 40%-50% more than locally hired pilots.

Now the Indian press reports that Jet Airways has announced it will "phase out excess expatriate pilots" over the next few months.

I am not sure what ‘phase-out’ means? Does it mean that as expat pilots’ contracts expires, they will not be renewed?

I was wondering how Indians would have reacted if local employees in Microsoft’s US offices had demanded that their foreign colleagues should be fired first before the others even take pay cuts. And how would it have felt if Microsoft actually gave in to their demands?

Did Jet Airways ever examine the possibility that the expat pilots may want to stay on at an ‘Indian salary’? The ‘phased-out’ pilots are unlikely to get jobs back in their home countries considering the state of the economy everywhere. What is Jet Airways’ justification for firing expat pilots and not locally hired Indian pilots? Does it think it owes anyone an explanation at all?

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