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Wipro, On Firing 300 For Moonlighting With Rivals, Says This Amid Debate

Rishad Premji has championed action against those who work for Wipro and rivals at the same time.

New Delhi:

Playing in a band on weekends is different from working in secret for competitors, Wipro boss Rishad Premji underlined this week when the soap-to-tech business group said it had fired 300 employees for “moonlighting”.

Other tech majors like IBM, which has a huge presence in India, and the homegrown Infosys have joined the chorus in calling moonlighting “an unethical practice.”

“Strange, plain and simple,” that’s how Mr. Premji described it. The company also issued a statement: “Certain employees found to be working in conditions directly contrary to Wipro’s interests have been fired.”

But this integrity debate isn’t just about what the company’s bosses want. Here’s an introduction:

What does it mean?

Moonlighting is when you take a side job in addition to your usual job. Since most “normal” orbits are from 9 to 5 during the day, the other orbit is usually at night, hence the reference to the “moon”.

While people with low wages would usually take it up for extra income – as a means of livelihood – remote working and projects in different time zones have now made it possible for highly paid techies to do the same.

Who started the debate?

Food delivery platform Swiggy said last month it now has an “industry-first” Moonlighting policy, which allows staff to take on outside projects “on the basis of internal approvals”.

“Whether it’s volunteering at an NGO, working as a dance instructor or creating content for social media, Swiggy firmly believes that working on such projects outside of your full-time job can make a significant contribution to both professional as an individual’s personal development.”

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It said the work could be free or even for money.

But the older majors haven’t been kind to the idea.

Who doesn’t want it?

Wipro’s Rishad Premji said employees can have conversations over the weekend about playing in a band or working on a project; but tried to separate such cases from secretly working for competitors. “There’s no room for anyone to work for Wipro and competitor XYZ and they (the other company) would feel exactly the same if they discovered the same situation.”

Earlier this month, Infosys shot a stern mail – titled “no double lives – to employees saying, “No two timing – no moonlighting!” It quoted clauses in the offer letter to bring the point home.

Is contract the last word?

Employees are usually silent because they sign agreements with “conflict of interest” clauses that can be described in various ways by the employer. Because unions are usually absent, these workers also have no bargaining power. But social media is buzzing with a fundamental claim: what anyone does outside of contractual “working hours” shouldn’t harm anyone.

A former director of Infosys, Mohandas Pai, says it’s not that simple.

“An employment contract is a contract between an employer who pays me to work for ‘n’ number of hours per day. What I do after that time is my freedom, I can do what I want,” he said, but added that employees must respect the terms of the contract they sign with the companies and that it is “illegal and unethical” is if they use their employer’s property for that purpose.

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