On December 12, 32-year-old Anand Rao* walked into his cubicle at the Verizon Data Services campus in Hyderabad, as he would on any other day. Little did the developer, who had devoted six years of his professional life to the telecommunications company expect that this would be his last day in the office.
"A member of the HR team summoned me to their office and told me to clear my desk and take everything along," says Anand. "The reason for the summons became clear immediately and I left with the intention to clarify matters," he adds.
But once he arrived at the meeting it became clear that there was no room for negotiation. Seated in the office space, he alleges, was not only the HR personnel but also a counsellor and 'bouncers'.
"They simply said that they were going to fire me. So, I had to either sign documents saying that I resign or they will forcefully terminate me," alleges Anand. The employee was not even given time to read the entire document before signing it. "I refused to sign, demanded some time to think over it and started getting up to leave. That is when the bouncers came in," he explains.
He was allegedly made to sit down forcefully despite protesting against the violation of his rights. "The bouncers pushed me back into my chair and held me by my shoulders till I signed the document. It was an awful experience and I can't begin to tell how demeaning it was," says Anand, adding, "It was not like I was on the bench, I was performing and they treated me in this terrible manner."
To add fuel to fire, the counsellor present in the office, allegedly told the employee that he must not get worked up because it will affect his health and stated that he must be satisfied with the severance package which included the equivalent of four months of his salary.
According to ForIT (Forum for IT Professionals) in Hyderadad, Anand is among 993 employees who have been "illegally terminated" by the communications giant across the country. The hardest blow has been delivered to employees in the Chennai, Hyderabad and Bengaluru offices.
Verizon confirmed the 'layoffs' in its IT workforce, including in Verizon Data Services India. The process began in Bengaluru on November 15, following which over 500 people were told to leave in Chennai and over 200 in Hyderabad, according to ForIT. And while industry insiders have been expecting the retrenchment since the merger of Verizon, AOL, and Yahoo earlier this year, the manner in which employees have been allegedly forced to leave has led to enormous anger.
"It is such a nasty situation and it is not just about people being retrenched, it is also about how it is being done," says Kiran Chandra, founder member of ForIT in Hyderabad, an employees’ association for IT professionals. "They are antagonising people with bouncers and counsellors. We are planning to even complain to the medical council regarding this issue. As far as the bouncers are concerned, they are brought in based on how the employee reacts. We will take this issue to every forum and fight it out," he adds.
Employees in Chennai narrated similar accounts from the retrenchment process. An employee told TNM under the condition of anonymity, "It was such a traumatic experience. I have worked for the company for eight years and they made me leave. The retrenchment was done for employees across the scale but mostly seniors."
According to him, employees are divided between Band 1 to Band 9 based on their seniority. Was it based on performance? "No, they wouldn't explain. They simply said it is a management decision," he adds. In the Chennai office too, 'counsellors' were allegedly present.
"There were 50 teams on the Chennai campus executing the process. As soon as employees signed the document, they were taken to the parking lot and asked to leave, " says Welkin of Union of IT and ITES Employees (UNITE). "We have complained to the Labour Commission about how inhumane this process was. There will be a meeting on Friday with the company representatives present. Our fight is not about the financial compensation because that has been rather sizable," he explains.
According to UNITE, private consultants were hired by the management to compile a list of those who will be forced to leave. Employees involved in the firing process were allegedly not given the entire list as they feared that the information would then reach the people mentioned. Band 7 and Band 8 were allegedly involved in telling employees to leave the company and getting them to sign the final documents.
UNITE says that employees who have been shown the door are not likely to get other opportunities as they had held senior roles and large salaries. "They will need counselling and have to learn new skills to get placed in another company," says Welkin. "UNITE is ready to help them in this process," he adds.
‘Role rationalisation’, says Verizon
Terming the layoffs as “role rationalisation”, Verizon’s spokesperson told the media, “As Verizon consolidates its strategy, we can scale, compete, and continue to be successful. Verizon’s IT, including Verizon Data Services India, is transforming into an engineering-centric, technology organisation. The transformation entails rationalising roles, which has an impact on headcount.” The company added, "We are doing role rationalisation not to meet a specific number but to match the talent with the requirements of the business for its future."
The company also denied allegations of manhandling, with Sajad Pokkadon, Verizon’s corporate communication head in India telling New Indian Express, “Security personnel along with an HR personnel were part of the meeting to ensure there is no emotional outbursts or adverse reactions.”
The layoffs by Verizon come on the back of several IT companies retrenching a number of employees. In May this year, protests were held in Chennai against lay-offs by IT companies. The mass campaign was initiated by the New Democratic Labour Front (IT Wing) against Wipro, Cognizant, Tech Mahindra, IBM and other IT companies after a series of layoffs by these organisations. According to reports, in March and April, Wipro sacked 600-700 employees, Cognizant fired 6000-10000 employees and even Infosys reportedly let go of 9,000 employees.
Following this, forums were formed in Chennai, Bengaluru and Hyderabad to deal with the increasing number of issues faced by IT employees.