Now, that relative calm has begun to wear off.
What has changed relates not so much to the larger economy, but to the changing nature of the labour practices of the management in IT companies.
The nature of the complaints against them range from withholding of employees’ pay (when they are working onsite) to not giving relieving letters. All these point to a dark shadow that hovers over even some of the poster boys of India’s emergence as a software powerhouse.
The effects of this coming storm are being felt in Bengaluru, India’s IT capital, home to 35 per cent of the 8 million IT professionals, which clocked ₹1 lakh crore in software exports in 2015.
The storm is manifesting itself in the growing clamour for a collective body or a workers’ union to represent their interests and to speak up for them.
Beyond blue-collar workers
“Why is there a perception that unions and associations are only for blue-collar workers? IT and ITeS employees need a collective voice,” says Syed Muqeem, head of the All India IT Employee Association (AIITEA), who works in ITC Infotech. AIITEA is a registered body and was born in the context of an increasing number of work-related problems that techies in the country face.
For example, Gautham Karthik, an employee who used to work at TCS in the US for clients such as Lehman Brothers, had alleged discrimination by his managers. He had a health-related problem, and TCS, after reinstating him (after he returned from medical leave), dismissed him without giving a valid reason, he claimed. Additionally, some payments that were due to him were withheld, he added.
In Muqeem’s view, such instances pointed to to the need for a union that can protect workers’ interests. “Our endeavour is to create awareness of employee rights, work with them in their career as well, ensure that HR departments follows fair practices and counsel employees,” he says.
‘Deferred joining dates’
He points out that the issue of fresh recruits being given ‘deferred joining dates’ now seems to be the norm among large and mid-sized companies too. There have also been instances of managers wilfully misrepresenting their subordinates’ work. An employee working for a multinational was hired as a solution architect, but was asked to do the role of a project manager. When he asked for the designation of project manager, his boss turned him down. When the employee escalated the matter to higher-level authorities, he was asked to resign. Another employee working in Samsung R&D had alleged discrimination and had even threatened to commit suicide in the workplace.
In Karnataka, the government has exempted IT and ITeS companies from the provisions of the Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act, subject to certain conditions. On June 10, the High Court in Bengaluru, in response to a public interest petition filed by the Puthiya Jananayaga Thozhilalar Munnani said that if IT and ITeS sectors are not covered under the Industrial Disputes Act, legislative changes are needed.