You have struck on a really relevant topic from my point of view (Bullies set sights on IT contractors, CW June 14, p17).
I am a contractor with more than 25 years of freelance contracting experience in the IT industry in Melbourne. I have been very happy to be independent, use many and varied agencies over the years including some contracts without the use of agencies in the past. Although I would not recommend that again as my experience was that many clients usually decided that you were overpaid and could wait months like any other bill that needed to be paid. Many clients will screen, and interview, reference check, then re-interview to get the best person they can from the market place but then try to bargain them down on price.
Contractors in the IT market have had a good run for a long time so I expect that the rates have had to see a downward trend with the excess of unemployed bodies in the market. I have never been unemployed. I have come perilously close at times but always managed to be one step ahead and kept my resume scrupulously up to date and ready to run it around the agencies at a moment's notice.
I have personally experienced blackmail offers from bosses - to get a contract extension - and I have never complied. I have witnessed corruption where agencies line the pockets of hiring managers with cash or gifts to get somebody secured into a contract. I have also now seen the destruction of whole sections of this industry by accounting and finance managers who have decided that offshore resources are cheaper - but the reality is that they are not going to save much at all. The long-term effects of outsourcing and offshoring have been the subject of many articles in Computerworld in the past few years. I delight in the potential work that this will bring to me in the future when their systems fail or have to be redeveloped onshore.
I must admit that I have had one or two really very good managers who have treated me like any other staff member and not discriminated. But they are in the minority. After 20+ contracts I can count them on one hand. The vast majority of IT hiring managers are ignorant in personnel matters and cannot be subjective enough to see themselves in my position.
Recently I had the pleasure of meeting one of my "very good managers" who had taken a redundancy package and left his long-term IT career. He was now contracting and on the receiving end of the negative attitude from co-workers and management. He was appalled. He sought me out to catch up and meet over a coffee and related some the "treatment" and verbal discrimination that he had now experienced. He had been contracting for a couple of different firms and was out of work so he took an offer to return to his old firm where he was made redundant four years ago. His return was not treated with the same respect as his departure.
He told me that when he was a permanent staff manager if they used racist, sexist or ageist terms against staff members on an IT project, the management would be severely disciplined by HR representatives. Yet, upon his return in the role of contractor, he had personally been treated in an unfair and discriminatory manner by those very same HR staff who had wished him well, presented him awards, and lectured him (the hypocrites!) about fair treatment of personnel. Even ageist remarks were made by HR staff - supposedly as a joke!
He is now observing, as I do, the hiring managers using bullying tactics of offering low salaries to convert contractors into "happy" permanent staff.
The good thing about this is that I have watched the IT job market for almost three decades and it is a free market. Market forces will prevail. As employers make short-term policies for profit by undervaluing staff and blackmailing contractors, and universities cut enrolments or increase fees, there will be the inevitable turnaround and a shortage of skilled IT professionals will eventually occur. Many will suffer in silence - but not for too long.
I take pride in my work and always give a bit more than the average person. I freely work extra hours every week and don't charge for them. I am always early and leave later than most staff. But I still often get a backhanded comment in meetings or references to "that contractor" or "one of those mercenaries". I have even taken on tasks that most staff refuse, or projects that they fail to complete. The managers that I have worked for are very complimentary in their praise of my work - with the added qualifier - "for a contractor". I personally find this to be the equivalent of saying, "Oh, he was pretty good for a [coloured] person . . ."
Downward slide hinders upswing
I agree there are signs of an industry upswing (your editorial, CW June 21, p18) but we are still recovering from the downward slide. It will take some time before the low morale apparent in many IT departments catches up with the improved economic environment. Also there isn't much room for complaint if you want to keep your job!
(Name and address supplied)