Cognizant 'illegally terminating' employees alleges techie group, prepares for legal battle

Cognizant maintains there has been no retrenchment, but only voluntary separation programme.
Cognizant 'illegally terminating' employees alleges techie group, prepares for legal battle
Cognizant 'illegally terminating' employees alleges techie group, prepares for legal battle
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Is IT major Cognizant Technology Solutions (CTS) forcing some of its employees in India to leave?

A group representing workers in the IT sector has submitted a petition to the Tamil Nadu government accusing Cognizant of "illegal termination" of employees.

The Forum for IT Employees (FITE) has alleged that Cognizant has been forcing employees to resign. The petition submitted to the state Labour Commissioner last week seeks intervention into the "illegal terminations going on in Cognizant".

Speaking to The News Minute, Vinod AJ, General Secretary of FITE, alleged that the US-based IT firm has been forcing its employees to give their resignation letters based on their yearly performance appraisal.

"They cannot terminate workers by just branding their performance as poor. Cognizant Chennai's policy itself says that when an employee gets poor performance ratings, they will be put in a performance improvement programme. After three to six months of training, their performances are evaluated and the company can then take a decision whether to retain them or not," Vinodh said.

"These employees are ready to improve their skills and performances but they aren't being given a chance to do so," he added. "The company is forcing them to resign on a two-months' notice period."

Vinodh also alleged that the terminations are not instant, but that they have been planned months in advance. HR personnel keep a track and call a few employees every day.

Last week, FITE had first approached the Chennai Labour Commissioner. During a discussion at the meeting, it emerged that Cognizant employees from not just Chennai district but also from others such as Coimbatore, Kanchipuram and Tiruvallur had made similar complaints.

They were asked to approach the state Labour Commissioner and the group submitted their representation to the latter.

"The Commissioner told us that he will intervene immediately and get a written explanation from the company," he stated.

While 10 people, including those who have left the company and those serving their notice periods, have filed the petition, Vinodh says they have now been approached by over 30 people in Chennai and 150 from across the country.

The group is now planning to go for a conciliation process with the company first and approach the court if the former does not work out.

Meanwhile, Cognizant has maintained that there are no retrenchments.

"There are no retrenchments. This was part of your annual appraisal cycle and the voluntary separation programme is to ensure we have the right teams and the right skills in areas like digital. I do not want to comment on any unionisation because it would be speculative. But we continue to hire people with the right talent," Cognizant president Rajeev Mehta told The Economic Times.

FITE was formed two years ago, when layoffs in Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) started making news, to work for the rights of employees in the software sector. In a major boost to the group, the Madras High Court in 2015 ordered a stay on the termination of an employee, also a FITE member, by TCS.

While there have been reports suggesting that Cognizant may lay off 10,000 employees in India in 2017, The Times of India on Monday reported that the IT giant intends to increase its hiring in the US and reduce dependency on H-1B visas.

"In 2017 and beyond, we expect to significantly ramp up our US-based workforce by hiring experienced professionals in the open market and by making more use of university, veteran, and related programmes," Raj Mehta, president, CTS, said.

This move comes less than a week after Indian IT major Infosys announced that it will hire 10,000 American workers over the next two years.

IT companies have been under pressure after the Donald Trump administration began enforcing stricter bureaucratic norms for issuing H-1B visas. Over 50% of the total 85,000 H-1B visas that are granted are reportedly received by Indian IT workers.

Experts also say the layoff and the drop in hiring by IT majors is linked to the increasing automation and thrust on artificial intelligence in its operations and projects.

In a piece published in Daily O, MG Arun, Deputy Editor of India Today, wrote that several factors like a slump in the growth of the IT industry mixed with focus on automation provides a not very promising future for the industry.

"Automation may threaten lower end jobs which are more repetitive in nature and can be done with minimal human interference. The industry is at the cusp of a major transformation due to proliferation of advanced digital technologies like business analytics, cloud, mobility, internet of things (IoT), security, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and robotic process automation (RPA)," he wrote. 

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