THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: A whisper campaign is again going on among the techies in the state on the need for trade unions in Information Technology (IT) / IT Enabled Services (ITES) sector. Fears over job security and unceremonious exits in the IT sector have triggered this, causing serious concerns to employers as well as the government. The formation of an effective statutory mechanism comprising the representatives of all stakeholders of the industry to address the job-related issues of techies has been suggested by techies as an alternative for trade unionism. “Kerala IT sector is still in the nascent stages with only around one lakh manpower compared to five to ten lakh in neighbouring states like Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Any adverse developments in the sector would nullify the efforts to showcase the state as investor-friendly,” industry sources fear.
According to the techies, after the mass layoffs in some major IT firms several years back kicked off strong protests and even caused the interventions of major trade unions in the IT sector, many companies are now adopting a weeding out strategy. Even senior executives are humiliated by giving less responsibilities and forcing them to quit. This will deprive them of an opportunity to seek due claims through government authorities, especially labour department. Techies feel that a statutory body consisting of representatives of employers, employees and government should be formed.
“As the companies are adopting unethical weeding out practices, the conventional labour laws could offer no protection to us. The government should hence form a statutory body comprising representatives of the sectors so that the genuine grievances of employees could be addressed. Such measures could avoid the formation of trade unions among techies,” said a senior techie at a global IT firm in Technopark. Labour department officials also said that there were many instances of employees of Technopark firms complaining of undue termination. But in many cases they would have submitted a voluntary resignation letter where no action could be initiated against the firm, said a labour department official.
IT industry sources said that there was about 35 percent dip in demand in the IT sector, especially business process outsourcing and software exports. "Employees used to switch jobs seeking better prospects. Similarly IT companies will also be concerned about the company’s prospects and look for flexibility in increasing and decreasing manpower as per business,” said an IT employer. A good number of techies in the state are in the age group of 40 to 50, most of them settled in the state over many years. Hence, the global slowdown in the IT sector is causing serious concerns among the techies. Unless the government intervenes to ensure the job security of techies, it would snowball into a major social issue, techies said.
Meanwhile, techies also admit that there are many IT companies that give due compensation in case of termination for business reasons. “Even recently a Technopark firm had terminated some employees as part of an acquisition. But the employees were offered compensation of Rs 1 lakh per year of experience apart from three months’ salary,” said a techie at Technopark.
Unions should not hurt it prospects
There is nothing wrong to have trade unions in IT sector also. But it should not hurt the prospects of the IT industry, which is entirely different from others. The present thought among the IT/ITES employees in the state about forming trade unions has been triggered by the unethical manners adopted by some IT firms in weeding out employees. Obviously, the IT sector is undergoing a changing phase. The IT companies should re-skill the employees according to the requirement instead of giving the pink slip. Especially senior hands are being expelled and fresh hands recruited. This is to maximise profit at the cost of employees. Such unethical practices prevailing in the IT sector are sowing the seeds of trade unionism among IT employees.
CITU is obviously favouring trade unions in IT sector also if employees turn up with grievances. There were reports that the IT leaders are pressuring the government not to allow trade unions in IT sector. This is against the rights of employees to organise.
(Chandran Pillai is CITU all-India secretary. As told to DC correspondent)
Unions can wait, let industry flourish first
IIt is a question of what should be our priority? Whether to attract more IT companies or to form trade unions. Unless there is a wall, we can't draw a picture. The IT industry of Kerala, though over two decades old, is still very minuscule, compared to other states like Karnataka or Tamilnadu. The software exports from Kerala is still very meagre compared to the national figures. Hence I strongly feel that the present priority of Kerala should be to facilitate the growth of the industry, especially at a time when the IT and ITES sector globally is passing through a tough phase.
It took years of efforts to make some changes to the impression that Kerala in an investor-unfriendly place. Imagine a situation where one IT/ITES company in Kerala shuts due to trade unionism. That will take things back to square one. Not only that we need not expect any fresh investments, but the existing firms will also think of shifting operations to safer destinations that offer operational flexibility. What the IT industry has been offering is not permanent employment. It is actual employment. The companies will be preferring the flexibility of increasing or decreasing workforce depending on demand.
Obviously, issues of employees also need to be taken care of. All the companies operating in the state are bound to follow the labour laws of the land. The IT park managements, state government’s IT department and labour department are options available for employees to take up their grievances. It did not require the backing of any trade unions.
(Mathews is founder and executive chairman, IBS. He is also former chairman, Group of Technology Companies. As told to DC correspondent)
IT employees’ Chennai forum is ready to help
The need for trade unions of IT/ITES employees assumes significance as the companies adopt a strategy of smoking out employees by forcing them to resign by misusing the appraisal system. This need to be plugged. We have repeatedly been urging our members not to submit resignation letter under any pressure from managements. We have been getting a good number of distress calls from IT/ITES employees in Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram even in the recent months. But all of them want to maintain secrecy, for fear over the appraisal systems of IT companies. We definitely have plans to expand to Kerala too, subject to the interest of our counterparts there.
FITE already has its strong presence in places like Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, West Bengal and Delhi. It was a result of the organised protest by the IT employees that mass layoffs in major firms like TCS and Cognizant were resisted. The IT companies are even calling us for discussions. These are indeed good outcomes for an organised movement. As of now, FITE does not have any political affiliation, though many parties approach us.
(Vinod is general secretary, Forum of IT Employees (FITE) Chennai. As told to DC correspondent)
‘Seek CEO aid to solve issues’
We already have a system in place at all IT parks to address grievances of employees. Employees of IT companies in the government IT parks could take up their grievances with the chief executive officer of the park at the Park Centre. The CEO will discuss the matter with the management of the firm concerned. If the issue could not be sorted out at that level, the matter could be taken up with the labour department, and they have a well-set process of deciding on the matter. This system has been in place for years and has been working efficiently. Similarly, there is also a provision for IT companies to take up their grievances with the IT Parks CEO.
(Sivasankar is IT secretary, Government of Kerala. As told to DC correspondent)...