The Central Council
The Institute of Chartered Accountants of India
Greetings on the eve of Pongal / Makara Sankaranthi!
Within the next couple of weeks, there would be the customary election for the Vice President and President for the third and final year of the 22nd Council (present disposition) before the elections for the 23rd Council kicks in, and we would have a new set of Council Members at the top of the ICAI's decision making hierarchy.
With the the Elections to the 23rd Central Council Elections and for various Regional Council looming large and with barely eleven months ahead, I request your goodselves to sit down, and pass a resolution (unanimously) and issue diktats to all the contestants and the CAs in general, on just one thing - Not To Engage Articled Clerks for Works Other than Audit Related or Office Related Works. And definitely not for Election Campaigning. And not for engaging in personal works. Not for pamphlet distributions or telephonic calls.
The trigger for making this request is a small experience I had today morning. Today morning, at around 6.30 AM, as I got down from an Auto at a centre for giving lectures, two kids of around nineteen or twenty walked down and gave me couple of pamphlets or marketing fliers for some coaching classes. The support staff at the centre enquired with those kids and came to know that they are CA Students.
They may or may not be articled clerks. But having interacted with enough number of students, who have turned to be successful professionals now, and including the present day students, I have to come to know that quite a few training / coaching institutes are operating by engaging the articled clerks as pamphlet distributors, student attendants, student counselors, registration staff, attendance clerks etc.
Purpose of Articleship...
What exactly is the purpose of articleship? Are we trying to make them marketing consultants or "home managers" or telecalling professionals? Shouldn't the purpose be to help them learn the tricks and tools of the profession? Should the three years of internship help them "evolve and grow"? Shouldn't they be learning Management, Taxation, Corporate Law, Attest Functions, Systems Study, Audits and Handling Clients?
Engaging the "wannabe" and "aspiring professionals"for any of the above works, cannot and should not be treated as "Articleship Training as per CA Regulations" (as far as I can read the rule book).
Highly Unregulated Working Hours
The ICAI Regulation (have shared the link containing summary towards end) states that the working hours for Articled Clerks shall be 35 Hours and in no case exceed 45 Hours every week. And for every additional hour put in, the Articled Clerks are entitled for additional / compensatory leave, over and above their normal entitlement (which is around 156 Days over a Three Year Period).
As far as I know, almost every single student in Metros these days puts in around 50 to 55 Hours of work every week (excluding lunch hours and travel time). There are instances where kids spend as much as 14 to 15 hours every day for long stretches within the four walls of the office. Even assuming they are willing to work, and learn, are the CAs giving them the additional leave? Answer is a big no. We are looking at almost 60 to 80% more time being spent at office, and therefore, logically leave entitlement should shoot upto around 280 Days, and we still have offices which does not give more than 135 Days (based on old regulations), and treat anything more as "Excess Leave".
Articleship period is as much a preparatory period for examination, as it is for getting to learn and gain practical knowledge. With the present set of not giving them enough leave when it matters, and considering the breaks for "IT Training" or "GMCS-1" or "GMCS-2" etc as more of a hindrance (which is true) to the normal work, and squeezing every little personal time which the kids have, we are definitely not creating an enabling environment for meaningful training of students.
Gross Misuse of Authority and Influence
It just seems grossly unfair that these kids who come to a place for learning, primarily to the CA who runs the show, for becoming a professional, is made to become pamphlet distributors or tele-callers. Its not a question of dignity of labour, but gross misuse of authority and influence. I am not sure such engagements can be deemed as fair, even if such Articled Clerks do it "voluntarily".
Given the way our teaching and training system is in place, most students won't say no to their principals and teachers. Make a request or an order, it is highly improbable that someone would revolt or rebel. Given such a set up and student ethos, I wouldn't trust the hogwash about "Voluntary Work". Why take a chance - prohibit all such engagements.
The Stipend Amount and Level Playing Field
Does payment of stipend beyond the stipulated minimum amount entitle the CAs to lay their hands on the leave entitlement? I wouldn't be surprised if many CAs would say "Yes". Admittedly, lot of CAs are more generous when it comes to stipends. I never got more than the statutory minimum. We still had to work the same 40 or 50 Hours. These days quite a few firms pay good amount of stipend to their articled clerks. But merely because I pay five times or six times the statutory minimum shouldn't give me, as a CA, a right to cut down the other "Minimum Statutory Entitlements of the Student".
There are instances when I feel, we should probably restrict the upper limit of stipend that can be paid, just to ensure that no body can literally attract more Articled Clerks than another small or medium sized firm, merely because they pay more stipends. But looking at the way upper limits are fixed for IPL Players (which is pretty substantial), I personally don't see any reason for not fixing the upper limit.
Department / Body for Addressing Student's Grievances
Does ICAI have a separate wing / body / committee / department to address the concerns of CA Students / Articled Clerks? If yes, I am yet to find the details of the same on the ICAI's website or any other place. With lakhs of CA Students, and many of them doing Articleship, I definitely feel, there is a need for an "Independent" (Truly Independent Body), to deal with matters of CA Students, especially their grievances, including those against their respective principals (it could be including against me by my own articled clerks).
To always think that our fellow professionals will always walk with their heads high, with all their integrity intact would be a bit juvenile. With the recent list released by CBDT listing CAs who have signed 2000 Plus Tax Audit Reports is a case to the point. Recognizing that there can be wolves among the sheep is of utmost importance and plain commonsense.
For the profession to grow, its professionals are to be regarded well, and respected much by their immediate followers or successors i.e. their articled clerks and students. If we leave the present scenario to continue, soon we might have more than CA Students and freshly qualified CAs who are more bitter towards other CAs and the profession as such.
Lets help them become professionals. Lets not reduce them to some housemaid and kill their aspirations. Lets not treat them like machines and make them work for unreasonably long hours. Lets ensure that their three year period with us is something they would like to recollect fondly and as a productive period of their life. Lets not prey on their dependence on us to nurture our personal aspirations.
Lets take a pledge to respect the kids for the purpose they are with us.
Lets start with our own office.