Wipro Chairman Rishad Premji Calls Moonlighting “Cheating”, Draws Strong Reactions

Even as startups are going ahead and formalizing moonlighting — Swiggy recently came out with a policy that officially enabled employees to work on side projects — traditional IT companies don’t seem as keen on the idea.

Wipro Chairman Rishad Premji has said that moonlighting — which refers to employees picking up side projects in addition to their chief job — was “cheating”. “There is a lot of chatter about people moonlighting in the tech industry. This is cheating – plain and simple,” he tweeted.

Premji’s comment comes at a time when there are reports of several tech employees working on side projects. With most companies working remotely, employees have been able to freelance on other projects, or even pick up other jobs. Some companies have even looked to institutionalize the practice — Swiggy came out with a moonlighting policy, through which employees could work on other projects after approval from the company.

But Premji calling moonlighting “cheating” didn’t sit well with many Twitter users. Some people pointed out that IT sector employees were forced to work on the side because salaries hadn’t even pace with the changing times. “IT industry does not have moral ground to talk about this. In the last 15 years, the currency difference has doubled. Dollar billing per resource has doubled. But still junior and mid level resources are paid pennies,” wrote a Twitter user.

Other users pointed out that only Indian companies forbade employees from working on the side and treated workers like “slaves”. “Most Indian employment contracts have anti-moonlighting clauses. Indian employers think they own your 24 hours as a slave. In US, it’s a rare thing to include such clauses in contracts unless for very specialised, high risk jobs,” said a user.

Soon jibes began to be thrown at Premji’s background — Premji is the son of former Wipro Chairman Azim Premji — with snide remarks of nepotism. “Translation: I am not happy that few employees at my papa’s company are doing side hustle to manage their households, even though we still pay freshers the same we were paying around 2009 and offer average salary hikes lesser than the inflation rate,” wrote another user.

Some people pointed out that while Wipro employees were prevented from having multiple jobs, Premji himself holds a multitude of positions, including being a Director in several Wipro companies and Azim Premji Foundation, Azim Premji Trust, and Azim Premji Philanthropic Initiatives Private Limited. “Why is “moonlighting” as chairman/director/board member of 7 different companies not “cheating – plain and simple”? If you can juggle so many key roles that pay many times more, why can’t those lower down the pyramid and earning a fraction of what you earn?” wrote a Twitter user.

Some Twitter users even began highlighting “cheating” cases that Wipro had allegedly committed. “Yr 1999 – I was in Infy. My friend in Wipro. Wipro sent him onsite B1 visa, and worked there as a coder. He flew economy, Wipro billed client for business class. Gyan mat pelo – plain and simple,” wrote another user.

Twitter isn’t always the most balanced place, but Premji’s remarks seemed to have hit a nerve. The coronavirus pandemic has upended how people work — work is now remote, distributed, and happens over the internet. This has also meant that side hustles are easier and far more common than ever before. Some companies are looking to ride the wave by formalizing moonlighting through explicit policies. And companies which resist moonlighting could not only see vociferous opposition to their rules, like Rishad Premji found out, but also find it hard to attract and retain the best talent in the new post-corona paradigm.