Thirumalai Selvan tells TNM that he has had to stick to freelancing for the past seven years — he couldn’t land a steady job as his record showed that he had been sacked by TCS.

Thirumalai Selvan wearing a red T shirt with white and black horizontal stripes
news Labour Rights Sunday, June 19, 2022 - 17:08

A long legal battle, occasional freelance consultancy stints and over 50 trips back and forth from the labour court — this is what the past seven years have been for Thirumalai Selvan Shanmugam, a former employee of Tata Consultancy Service Limited. Now aged 47, Thirumalai is elated. He has just won a seven year long case against his wrongful termination in 2015. 

Thirumalai was among the thousands of employees sacked from TCS jobs in 2015 without any prior notice. However, Thirumalai decided to pursue a legal route and years later, a court in Chennai ordered TCS to reinstate him and also pay him the salary he is owed for the past seven years. 

“For the past seven years, I have had to earn my livelihood by freelancing as the termination of my employment from TCS would show up in my record. A few years ago, I cleared technical interviews in some other software companies, but when my application reached HR, I failed because of the HR background check routed to TCS HR, and they realised that I had been graded lower,” he added. Thirumalai says it has been a difficult seven years, and his lawyer, advocate Sujatha’s support has helped him win the legal battle. “This legal battle wouldn’t have been possible without my advocate D Sujatha and the support from Forum for IT Employees (FITE),” Thirumalai tells TNM. 

In 2015, Thirumalai Selvan was working at TCS as part of the technical support team and maintained the IT infrastructure of the company. He had joined the company as an assistant engineer, and was later promoted. He was an assistant consultant when he was laid off without any compensation. 

“I was terminated all of a sudden with a single-line dismissal letter, following which I approached the Commissioner of Labour in 2015 and later, approached the court,” Thirumalai tells TNM.  

In his petition before the court, Thirumalai said that TCS had terminated him in violation of the law which says that as a skilled technical worker at the company, he was entitled to one-month’s notice period, and a compensation for retrenchment. However, while he was given a month’s notice, he was not given any compensation. 

He also submitted that TCS graded him lower despite a good performance, and then sacked all employees who were Assistant Consultants or senior, and instead recruited 55,000 people who were predominantly freshers. Thirumalai called his sacking “purely a profit driven” step taken by TCS. 

Thirumalai Selvan told the court that he was being laid off in violation of the Industrial Disputes Act, and ideally should have been given at least one month’s notice as well as compensation. According to the ID Act, a compensation equivalent to fifteen days' average pay for each year of his service or any part in excess of six months’ payment should be given to an employee who is laid off. 

However, TCS contended that the layoffs were part of the regular performance appraisal and associated processes in the company. TCS said that Thirumalai does not fall under the category of ‘workman’ as per the act, and only had a supervisory/managerial role, and hence is not entitled to the compensation and notice period. 

However, the court considered the evidence at hand and observed that he was doing skilled technical work, as that of the other workman, and not just a managerial job. The court observed that Thirumalai was a part of a team comprising software engineers, and cannot be excluded as being a ‘workman’. The court also refused to accept TCS’s argument that the company has “lost hope” in Thirumalai to justify his termination. The court referred to TCS’s own admission and the documents to observe that he was “appreciated for his good work rendered in the company, just few months prior to the order of termination.”

The court then pointed out that while one month’s notice in writing was provided to Thirumalai Selvan, the retrenchment compensation was not provided to him, thus making his termination illegal. The Presiding Officer of Principal Labour Court in Chennai, C Kumarappan, in an order dated June 8, 2022 set aside the termination order and directed TCS to reinstate Thirumalai Selvan, and ordered the company to pay him the salary he is owed for the past seven years, as well as other benefits.

The Forum for IT Employees (FITE) has welcomed the verdict and said that this order is a seven-year-long struggle that brings hope to the 40+ lakhs of workers in the IT sector in India who wish to challenge the illegal terminations and unfair labor practices in the IT sector. FITE has demanded the TCS management to reinstate the employee as early as possible.

 

In a similar case filed in Telangana by two other employees of TCS who were sacked, a labour court in Hyderabad had passed a similar order, that the employees fall under definition of workman and that the termination is illegal. “However, the court order is not as strong as the one in Tamil Nadu. Here, the court has ordered reinstatement with full wages, while in Hyderabad, the court has ordered either reinstatement with 20% wages or pay compensation to the workers,” said Parimala, the president of FITE.

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