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Cutting Here, but Hiring Over There

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Even as it proceeds with layoffs of up to 13,000 workers in Europe and the United States, I.B.M. plans to increase its payroll in India this year by more than 14,000 workers, according to an internal company document.

Those numbers are telling evidence of the continuing globalization of work and the migration of some skilled jobs to low-wage countries like India. And I.B.M., the world's largest information technology company, is something of a corporate laboratory that highlights the trend. Its actions inform the worries and policy debate that surround the rise of a global labor force in science, engineering and other fields that require advanced education.

To critics, I.B.M. is a leading example of the corporate strategy of shopping the globe for the cheapest labor in a single-minded pursuit of profits, to the detriment of wages, benefits and job security here and in other developed countries. The company announced last month that it would cut 10,000 to 13,000 jobs, about a quarter of them in the United States and the bulk of the rest in Western Europe.

"I.B.M. is really pushing this offshore outsourcing to relentlessly cut costs and to export skilled jobs abroad," said Marcus Courtney, president of the Washington Alliance of Technology Workers, or WashTech, a group that seeks to unionize such workers. "The winners are the richest corporations in the world, and American workers lose."

WashTech, based in Washington State, gave the I.B.M. document on Indian employment to The New York Times. It is labeled "I.B.M. Confidential" and dated April 2005. An I.B.M. employee concerned about the shifting of jobs abroad provided the document to WashTech.

I.B.M. declined to comment on the document or the numbers in it, other than to say that there are many documents, charts and projections generated within the company.

But in an interview, Robert W. Moffat, an I.B.M. senior vice president, explained that the buildup in India was attributable to surging demand for technology services in the thriving Indian economy and the opportunity to tap the many skilled Indian software engineers to work on projects around the world.

Lower trade barriers and cheaper telecommunications and computing ability help allow a distant labor force to work on technology projects, he said.

Mr. Moffat said I.B.M. was making the shift from a classic multinational corporation with separate businesses in many different countries to a truly worldwide company whose work can be divided and parceled out to the most efficient locations.
Cost is part of the calculation, Mr. Moffat noted, but typically not the most important consideration. "People who say this is simply labor arbitrage don't get it," he said. "It's mostly about skills."

And Mr. Moffat said that I.B.M. was hiring people around the world, including many in the United States, in new businesses that the company has marked for growth, even as it trims elsewhere. The company's overall employment in the United States has held steady for the last few years, at about 130,000.

To foster growth, I.B.M. is increasingly trying to help its client companies use information technology rather than just selling them the hardware and software. So I.B.M. researchers and programmers are more and more being put to work for customers, redesigning and automating tasks like procurement, accounting and customer service.

Yet those advanced services projects will be broken into pieces, with different experts in different countries handling a slice. This emerging globalization of operations, Mr. Moffat noted, does lead to a global labor market in certain fields. "You are no longer competing just with the guy down the street, but also with people around the world," he said.

Such competition, however, can become particularly harsh for workers in the West when they are competing against well-educated workers in low-wage countries like India. An experienced software programmer in the United States earning $75,000 a year can often be replaced by an Indian programmer who earns $15,000 or so.

Most economic studies, including one last week by the McKinsey Global Institute, a research group, have concluded that the offshore outsourcing of work will not have a huge effect on American jobs as a whole.

Full Story.

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