The COVID-19 situation is the first such in my life. It has affected me and my family in various ways, but boy am I lucky.

I am Indian and have been living in Europe for a few years now. When they announced lockdown where I live, I was still allowed to go out and excercise by the river. Managers at work explicitly acknowledged the difficulty of switching to WFH. I was asked not to worry at all about being as productive as I was in the office. I could get basically anything I needed to make WFH comfortable for me, and expense it. I took this all for granted. It just sounded like what decent humans would do for other humans they deem decent.

Well…

One friend works for a tech outsourcing giant as a support engineer (he describes his job as essentially taking calls from people who want to reset their passwords and walking them through the process). He was told by his manager that there is “client pressure” to have continuity in support, and that since there aren’t enough laptops or SoftPhone licenses to dole out, the team must come to work. He insisted to be present in a routine sync call with the US based client. He was allowed on the condition that he will just listen. The client company’s employees (on the call) were working from home, but were worried about disruption of work if my friend and his colleagues did their job remotely – they were worried about the disruption and cost associated with by having to wait for additional hardware/software licenses. The Indian management team (also working from home) assured the clients that the heroic support engineers will continue to come to office. My friend is young, and probably won’t suffer much himself if he gets the bug (but then maybe he will, who knows?). But he lives with his extended family (very common in India) and there are several elderly people living in his house. Is this shitty company or their scum of a client going to assume responsibility for their murder?

Another friend works for another big tech company, in the accounting/finance domain. He works from 7am in the morning to midnight, sometimes till 4am in the morning. He lives away from family in a shared apartment, and doesn’t have a proper desk/chair. He puts is laptop on a pillow, sits cross legged, hunched over the laptop all this time. Soon after the lockdown began in India, he developed neck and back pain, not to mention eye strain and severe sleeping issues. His manager calls him basically at any time, asks him to do “this little thing” or “jump on a call” (that lasts for multiple hours), and he has to do it. When I asked him why won’t he protest/switch off his phone after his core work hours, he told me about a time when he tried to push back. The response from his manager was straightforward: “You see layoffs going on everywhere? Well you don’t want a taste do you?”. And this is in a company that hasn’t laid off a single employee.

Yet another friend works for yet another big tech company. When he asked a higher level manager in a town-hall meeting if overtime pay/comp-off days will be given to people who are asked to work 14-16 hours a day, including weekends, he was shamed and told to be thankful that the company gave him “the liberty to work from near his family”, and that his commute is now made zero so he should “put his head down and give back to the company”. Note that this was when both the central and state governments had made imposed strict lockdown.

My brother used to work for a tech company. His manager two levels up had a row with him right before the lockdown started. His manager used the lockdown situation against my brother in such creative ways that he was almost pushed into depression. One day he called me and asked in a shaky voice if I would be disappointed if he quit his job, because he simply couldn’t take it anymore. I was fortunate enough to be able to tell him to not worry about a thing, to take a complete break from everything, and to see someone if he needs to talk.

There are many such stories. I am just very angry at this exploitation. Then again, who sets the rules? Who says this is not ok? Don’t some people, who did not have the presence of mind to choose the right family/country to be born into, need to slog during these times so we can order flamingo boats online for contactless delivery? I am pretty sure I enable a lot of this unknowingly (and sometimes knowingly). I am very fortunate today, I wonder how tomorrow will look!