An organisation from Tamil Nadu has become the first registered IT trade union in the country, paving the way for more unions in an industry which is known to have resisted such associations for long.
In a move that could have immense impact on the work culture in the IT/ITeS sector, the Chennai-based Forum for IT Employees (FITE) received their registration as a trade union on October 10.
How the union hopes to help IT employees
According to FITE, "Awarding a registration status to Forum for IT Employees by the Government of Tamil Nadu re-establishes the fact that employees of IT sector should be considered as "Workmen" and are eligible for the rights prescribed by the Industrial Disputes Act (1947)."
M Sathiesh, General Secretary, FITE, spoke to TNM on the milestone they have achieved, the issues they will focus on and the challenges that lie ahead of them.
FITE's journey started in the December of 2014 when the reported large scale layoffs in TCS started to gain steam.
While layoffs will continue to be on the top of the list of issues they want to focus on, they now also have several other employee concerns to work on.
"Firstly, the union will give employees moral support. This is important because the IT industry has a very peculiar character, that is employees and their issues are individualised. Employees are discouraged from extending support to a colleague facing a problem inside the campus. This culture has been cultivated consciously over the years as the management does not want employee organisations to take shape," Sathiesh said.
"Most often it is a team problem that employees face. The company will address the issue, but on an individual level. So if four employees together raise an issue with the HR, each will be called individually. Only a union can address it as a class problem. The class of employees should benefit when the problem is addressed," he added.
FITE will also provide legal support to members
"The labour rights that we have today were won after years of struggle. But these laws are not taken into consideration when it comes to the IT sector. It is as if they function on a different planet altogether and the laws of the land are not applicable to them," Sathiesh said.
Unionising employees in the sector, giving them a collective conscience and working on collective bargaining are some of the goals of FITE.
Appraisal system, ICC and more
Sathiesh called the current system that evaluates employee performance "discriminatory" and "subjective", and demanded it be scrapped.
"We are not against evaluation. We want an alternative method that is delinked from hikes, promotions, terminations, etc.," he said.
Other aspects they will focus on are the setting up of an Internal Complaints Committee that looks into allegations of harassment in every company, Income Tax disputes, confiscation of original documents of employees, etc.
In the past, several people from the top management of IT companies, including Infosys co-founder Mohandas Pai, have voiced their opinions against the formation of trade unions in the IT industry.
FITE is ready to face resistance. "We don't expect them to be benevolent to us. But now that we are a reality, they cannot brush us off calling us fringe groups," Sathiesh stated.
"Another challenge is the state-corporate nexus, the general pro-employer attitude and pro-corporate policy," he added.