A group of IT and ITeS employees initiated the process on Sunday to form a registered trade union representing the software industry in Karnataka.
Close to 200 people gathered at the YWCA Hall in Koramangala, Bengaluru to take part in the foundation conference. The organisers said that it was an impressive turnout.
The move comes amid reports of large-scale layoffs in the IT sector, diminished employee benefits and alleged exploitation of workers, especially of those in the lower rungs.
Called the Karnataka State IT/ITeS Employees Union or KITU, the union aims to organise employees working in the IT sector in the state, act as a platform where employees can voice their grievances, and provide a medium to interact with employers.
"What is currently happening is that if an employee is facing a problem, they have to fight in their individual capacity and the companies may not listen to them. The trade union will help them negotiate and bargain with the management, and even fight. As a collective, we can put forward our demands before the government," said Vineeth, who works as a testing lead with MindTree and is the General Secretary of the union.
What better place to start a trade union for IT employees than in India's Silicon Valley.
Vineeth is also part of the IT Employees Centre, an association that had been working for the rights of IT employees in Bengaluru for the last eight years. The group used to receive a range of complaints from employees including layoffs and those related to maternity leaves.
"The problem was that it was not registered as a union," he said.
"Without a structured organisation, it was very difficult to move forward. Also, we did not have much legal power. This union can represent employees now," he added.
Those present at the event also opined that it was high time that there was a union for IT workers.
"As per our Constitution, we have the right to join a union. Today the industry is facing so many challenges –from layoffs to automation. This is the right time to form an organisation," said Sethumadhavan, a Wipro employee.
Several voices in the past, including Mohandas Pai, have opposed the idea of a union for the IT sector, stating that it will adversely impact the service oriented sector.
Members of the union, however, vehemently counter such arguments.
"Trade unions are generally seen as anti-social or anti-national. It is projected as a retrograde process that halts the progress of the country. But this is not true. We want to create a society which is fair and equal. The NASSCOM and the government won't be happy with the trade union. But we are not individuals anymore. We are a group which gives us the strength to meet the challenges of our time," said Amanullah Khan, President of the Union.
The body will now have to submit their application within the next 15 days to the Labour Commissioner.
"There are several problems in the IT industry today," said Akshaya from IBM, who is also part of the executive committee. "For instance, sometimes we are given a project that requires us to work 15 hours a day and we are paid just Rs 25 per extra hour. This is even lower in smaller organisations. To address such problems, we need a union."
With media attention on the IT sector, the members feel that the industry may not oppose the move directly at the moment. It is also hoping to get more employees to register in the near future.
Apart from Karnataka, the Forum for IT Employees in Chennai too have applied to form a union. With these two cities spearheading the movement, several more such unions could crop up in various parts of the country in the future.