Organisations prefer readily available low-waged "fresh" college graduates who oblige to sit through 14-15 hour shifts in return for a fancily named award certificate, or even without that.

Unity of employees is a historical necessity Why Indian IT sector needs trade unions Stop I.T. Layoffs/Facebook
Voices IT Sector Tuesday, August 29, 2017 - 17:02

By M Sathiesh

A mind engaging in imagination is in constant need of peace of mind. Such a peaceful jubilant mind can evolve and persist only when the worker (Yes! The word IT worker makes us stay relevant as a contributor to the society than the ego stuffed word IT professional) is devoid of anxiety- the anxiety of fear of loss of job. So primarily we at Forum for IT Employees - FITE strongly dispute the theories that the corporate honchos have hard sold amongst the workers.

  • ‘Survival of the fittest’ that Darwin discovered applies to the theory of evolution alone. He for sure didn't discover it for the management mantris to fire workers at will.
  • The HR that the workers are asked to approach to air their grievances can never provide a redressal. They are only meant to individualise the workers problems and make the approaching worker believe such a problem existed only for him/her alone.
  • Yes. We receive higher salaries when compared to other sectors. But it is paltry when compared to what the companies make as profits through us. Nevertheless, higher salaries don’t give any 'right of exploitation' to the employer.

The nature of an IT worker’s job is such that the she/he will have to switch from project to project, from account to account, from one business domain to another throughout her/his career. What does that mean? It means the employee has to constantly update their skills in order to stay relevant in the industry, and all these years they have been doing just that.

Apart from clearing the annual competency examinations, there are several other tests that workers have to take to be eligible for band progression or promotion.

There are thousands of young employees in the IT industry who are hired for meagre wages and they continue to pursue their Post Graduation courses sponsored by the company while also doing the same job as the other employees do.

All these mean that upgrading/reskilling/upskilling along with discharging their everyday duties is a routine part of an IT worker's career. So, when the companies say that Disruptive Technologies, Cognitive Computing, Nanotechnology will take over and that those who do not "upskill" cannot be employed further, the narrative can be countered simply by stating that the same employees who had been skilling themselves shall be trained accordingly.

But organisations prefer the readily and vastly available low-waged "fresh" college graduates who oblige to sit through 14 to 15 hour shifts in return for a fancily named award certificate, or even without that.

Anyone who has made even a moderate observation of the IT industry in the past two-and-half years would have understood that the employees are fighting back layoffs and employee organisations are taking shape.

Gone are the days when companies could, just like that, throw away a bunch of employees and it would go unheard and unnoticed.

FITE is fighting labour disputes and court cases against almost all IT majors. We were formed during December 2014, in the backdrop of layoffs at TCS. The Madras High Court case filed by FITE, that resulted in the first ever case of a TCS employee getting back her job after being “laid off”, happened within a month of the formation of the forum.

Since then the forum, whose members comprise of employees from various IT/ITeS companies, has been fighting against layoffs, employees’ safety negligence, extended working hours, salary issues, sudden shutdowns of companies and various other issues.

The usual question that comes from an IT worker who looks at these developments is, “What could you, a bunch of people do against the mighty corporate big houses? Even the government backs them”.

The answer to that is: We are no more a bunch of employees and we are not just another 'Employee Welfare Association' engaging in CSR initiatives. The Tamil Nadu Chapter of FITE is in the process of registering itself as a trade union. Apart from TN, the forum’s chapters function in Karnataka, West Bengal, Telangana, Delhi and Maharashtra. More than 1,000 members have registered on our website and 100 members have signed the membership forms that gives us the mandate to function as a trade union.

But why a trade union? Because as a trade union, we have the worker protected and covered, especially during times of victimisation. S/He need not fight it out alone. The worker can narrate her/his stories of victimisation to the union members which s/he may not be able to openly tell their family. An individual employee's problem from then on becomes a union's problem.

As a matter of fact, most of the problems faced by an individual in the IT/ITeS industry, such as layoff, long work hours, appraisal etc., are not the problem of an individual alone. But these are problems faced by the entire class of workers in this sector. And such problems belonging to a class of workers can be solved only through unionisation of workers.

Our fight during 2014/2015 created an intervention in the layoffs at TCS. It made the company's then CEO, N Chandrasekaran, come out and say “We need to relook how we handled the issue of layoffs”.

Infosys’ Narayanana Murthy has coined a phrase called “Compassionate Capitalism” and had asked for pay cuts to senior employees to mitigate layoffs.

If the secretly recorded exit interview audio clip of the terminated employee was not uploaded on social media by us, then Tech Mahindra's top boss wouldn't have bothered to apologise in public for the harassment the employee was subjected to (We have also raised a dispute with the labour commissioner regarding the matter).

All these are a few samples of the senior management folks bowing down to save their faces or rather their company's brand image because of our activism seeking justice.

It was a conscious effort on the part of both companies and the government to ensure that the concepts such as 'labour rights' and 'unionisation' did not become prevalent amongst the IT workforce all these years.

But unity of employees is now a historical necessity. Yes, like that C language which can never die entirely and reincarnates itself via various other languages, trade unionism, as long as the sufferings of the working classes exist, will stay relevant by sprouting itself through various ways.

M Sathiesh is General Secretary of the Tamil Nadu chapter of FITE, a body which represents IT workers. 

(Views expressed are personal.)

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