IT Sector
Despite lakhs being employed in the IT sector, trade unions have no presence in the sector.
Image source: www.infosys.com

Amid reports of recent large scale layoffs in the Indian IT sector, numerous disgruntled employees aren't taking the developments lying down.

While some have been venting their dissatisfaction on social media claiming unfair treatment, others have approached the government demanding speedy intervention.

Leading the pack in protests against Cognizant Technology Solutions' (CTS) "illegal terminations" is the Forum for IT Employees (FITE), a Chennai-based group representing Indian techies.

The employees collective has so far submitted petitions to the Labour Departments in Tamil Nadu and Hyderabad on behalf of "affected" techies.

The Chennai-based group was formed in 2014 to protest against similar layoffs by TCS. And last year, the group registered to form a trade union.

This was just after the Tamil Nadu government said that IT employees are free to form trade unions and that no company could seek exemption from the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947.

"Currently the verification is process is going on and we may form the union officially in the next few months. We want to form unions in Bengaluru, Chennai and Mumbai as well after which we can have a central union,"  says Vindo AJ, General Secretary, FITE.

An estimated 40 lakh Indians are employed in the IT sector in the country and overseas, and yet, trade unions haven't been able to gain a foothold in the sector.

In fact, Bengaluru, which is often called India's Silicon Valley, cannot form trade unions. The state government in 2013 had exempted the IT industry from labour laws.

Infosys co-founder Mohandas Pai has for long maintained that the IT industry does not require trade unions. "If any of these people who have left or have been laid off create trouble for TCS, will anybody else ever hire them?" he asked in an interview to Business Standard.

He went on to state that trade unions usually work in companies where employees want "job security", one where they work for the same employer for a very long time. Stating that the software sector was different, he told the publication, "This is an industry where people move from company to company, depending on who pays you better. Employees give a 15-day notice, attrition is in double digits--what employee rights are you talking about?"

Mohandas Pai had last year also said that the TN government's clarification was in bad taste.

In response to Pai, FITE in its reply countered the points, made by the former, against IT unions.

Pai had called the regulations "unnecessary". To which FITE said, "Can Mr Pai call the labour laws of European or American countries “unnecessary regulations”? IT companies in India have been enjoying many tax exemptions, nominal electricity charges and special provisions to establish their firms. But these companies don’t want to follow any labour regulations/laws of the government. All such benefits are exclusively given by governments to companies only for the sake of employment generation. If the companies are tampering this very objective, then governments are also not under the obligation to pamper them."

It also called National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM), the apex Indian IT industry body, "an industry lobby which exerts pressure on politicians and lawmakers to achieve results for the companies’ benefit."

"When employers have their own associations for their benefits, employees also have the right to form similar set up which is allowed by Indian law," FITE wrote.

Read the full reply and Mohandas Pai's response to it here: Let’s make a win-win situation: A Reply to Mr TV Mohandas Pai from Forum for IT Employees

Vinod says that the union will safeguard the interests of employees and negotiate on behalf of them if required. "We won't just be focusing on terminations. There are other issues as well. Be it employee involvement in policy-making decisions, the stress they face, automation in the industry or the H-1B visa policy."

Pratidhwani, an employee collective of Technopark in Thiruvananthapuram, has been working towards getting a welfare scheme for IT employees formulated. With no job security in the sector, the five-year-old group has been seeking welfare measures such as minimum wages, pension packages, relaxing gratuity norms, etc.

Stating that the technology sector is very different from the manufacturing sector, Rajeev Krishan, Secretary of Pradhwani, says that both their functioning and needs are also different.

"So we need collectives to represent techies, not unions. Also, whenever someone talks of unions, they think of trouble," he states.

The impact of these unions on companies, some say, may not bring about a huge change in the functioning of the latter, but it can however make them reexamine their process.

“The companies need to look at the performance and counsel consistent under-performers. Those who cannot perform need to find some other way. This is not something unjustified. Though the ongoing attempts to unionisation are not going to cause any major shift in a way the performance is managed in the IT and related industries, the companies may have a relook at the whole process,” P Thiruvengadam, senior director, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu India Pvt Ltd, had earlier told Live Mint

Also read: Cognizant 'illegally terminating' employees alleges techie group, prepares for legal battle

Tough times for Indian IT: 5 things you should know about ongoing mass layoffs