'We were cheated': Why TN students are on a hunger strike against L&T

For many students, it was a year long wait after an offer letter, only to be rejected.
'We were cheated': Why TN students are on a hunger strike against L&T
'We were cheated': Why TN students are on a hunger strike against L&T

When Prabha, an M Tech student from Erode sat for a hunger strike with 40 others at the Shollinganallur junction on Monday, she was determined to hear from L&T Infotech Chennai.

On April 6th this year, a year and a half since receiving a placement letter - not necessarily an assurance of employment today from L&T – Prabha was jilted by a rejection mail based on an unscheduled assessment test L&T had conducted a few weeks back. 

“I haven’t told my parents yet, and I might have to go back to let them marry me off. This is the next battle,” she says, chuckling woefully. 

On 26th May, a group of 6,500 candidates who sat for L&T placements in Chennai between September to November 2014 in Chennai were provided offer of intent letters. While they outlined that they weren't legally binding, they were sent subsequent letters and told to wait as they would be accepted in batches. With this offer of intent however, came a congratulatory mail. “You are now part of L&T Infotech.”  A series of letters followed detailing batchwise recruitment procedures based on ranking and academic performances. 

Also read: This mail trail exposes how L&T Infotech took them for a ride, alleges students

Koushik, a Madurai native who was a student of a prominent college in the city, was forced to reject multiple job offers in the meant time. “We were given instructions by the placement cells not to sit for any other interviews. And not even subtle verbal ones – they were mails and warnings sent out in bold, huge letters,” he said. Koushik, like 250 others across the country, have been left in the lurch. “I am a university topper,” he says, “but this cruel joke was played on me.” More numbers could emerge of the 2,000 that sat for the test, and only 150 who got selected.

After these warnings and batchwise recruitment mails, Campus Connect sessions were held in various colleges during 2015 as a salve of assurance. “We brought our parents along, we were assured jobs, we were told not to panic,” says Santosh, a B Tech graduate. At the footnote of each Campus Connect mail, the congratulatory lines featured prominently. “We assumed we were still in the running,” he said. Finally, Santosh thought. The day had arrived when he opened his mailbox to see a mail detailing a tentative joining date. In bold it said, ‘THIS IS NOT A JOINING LETTER.’ “We knew something was stinking by then, we just didn’t know it would happen with a huge brand,’ he rues.

On 3rd March 2016, the remainder of the students received mails to sit for an unscheduled assessment test that earlier batches didn’t. This, the students claim, had questions that toested those at the level of already having been placed in a project. “Neither were we trainees at this point, nor did we have a single day of experience at L&T.” A confusion with the hall tickets ensued – the words “if shortlisted” sent everyone into a tizzy. A third party company Himentor, came into the picture here clarifying that this was a mistake. It was simply an assessment and “not a recruitment drive”.

On April, approximately 250 students across the country received mails saying they were rejected due to their performance in the test - a rule they had never heard of.

Points of contention

The concept letters of intent and offer letters being cancelled especially after mails on joining dates were issued, has been largely unheard of, particularly after an unscheduled assessment test. The assessment test mail clearly said it was "not a recruitment drive" but also said joining would be subject to this test. The criteria for passing the test however, was made confidential. Is this practice passable? 

Placement cell officers in these prominent colleges said to The News Minute that they have projected their placement record to included these candidates, who have not been placed and have not had a single day of training at L&T Infotech. “We have recorded them as placed on the basis of the initial mail in 2014 that congratulated them and told them they were a part of L&T. What happens after that is none of our business. Companies can hold any test they like, ethical or not,” sources from the placement cells said. This sentiment echoed across other cells, acknowledging it was unethical, but clear that fighting a big name was preposterous.  

HR representatives of L&T Infotech who handled these placements told The News Minute that they have resigned. “We have fought for these students, we have had to take quite a lot of risks. But we decided it was enough,” a former HR officer said, on the condition of anonymity.

These rejected students can still access the L&T intranet as 'Trainee'. Further offers of intent have been issued to more candidates in 2015. 

“We are demanding a compensation after having spent 18 months waiting for a joining date. We have forsaken opportunities to be part of a successful brand. This has been extremely traumatic for us,” Parthiban, an M Tech Student from a Coimbatore college said.

Third party involvement?

During the assessment test, mail trail accessed by The News Minute switches hands from L&T to a third party company earlier mentioned. Himentor is a third party company that claims it connects companies and colleges for entry-level jobs. The mails on assessment tests and the admit card generation of these tests seem to have been taken care of by Himentor. Here's what they say they do: (Source)

“Companies give us information about their recruitment, we take over from there, our in-house team identifies potential colleges/students, takes care of logistics like information about the job, collating their responses, arranging for the venue etc. The only process where in we do not meddle with is the actual selection process. We are a one stop shop for their entry level hiring which includes campus placements as well as hiring just-in-time." 

TNM was unable to reach HiMentor for comment. They say they have provided services to "top notch companies like Thomson Reuters, Biocon, Microland, HSBC, Fidelity, ICICI Securities, Yebhi etc." 

" HiMentor charges students through their placement cells for bringing the profiles online and make them part of talent pool of companies. They also charge a success fee once the student is placed successfully. They do not charge anything from the corporates. Himentor.com is marketed with a direct sales force through the placement cells of the colleges."

The placement cell officers TNM spoke to have no knowledge of this third party. “This could be L&T Infotech. We are not involved in paying middlemen, and it is an unethical practice.” 

This is a stark reminder of last year's HCL protests, after engineering graduates were promised a job by tech major HCL Ltd. They were duped after waiting a year for their joining dates. The Labour department however, declared it could do little.

The IT industry does not come under the Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act. Labour officials said to The Hindu that they were unsure how much intervention was possible. 

The News Minute has reached out to L&T Infotech with a set of questions, and the company will issue a formal statement today.

*Names changed for anonymity

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