An IT Workers’ Union: Outlandish Or A Sign Of The Times?
Three members of Forum For IT Employees pose for a picture in Pune. (Photographer: Vishal Patel/BloombergQuint)

An IT Workers’ Union: Outlandish Or A Sign Of The Times?

India’s software services industry faces a twin challenge: U.S. President Donald Trump’s protectionist policies and automation. And as companies lay off staff, a group of employees is now trying to form an IT workers’ union.

There’s been a growing sense of insecurity among the IT professionals over the last few years, said Elavarasan Raja, a 27-year-old IT worker from Pune. That’s led the group to try and form a union to better protect employees’ welfare, said Raja who is part of the group.

Called the Forum For IT Employees, the group now has around 3,000 members and chapters in nine cities, including its headquarters in Chennai, and in prominent IT hubs like Bengaluru and Pune, according to Raja.

The group, in a recent press release, alleged that Cognizant Technology Solutions was illegally terminating thousands of employees by forcing them to submit their resignations

The profit motive of the I.T companies to replace the highly paid experienced Employees with lesser experience/ low paid new recruits is leading to illegal terminations. Each company carries it out differently quoting various reasons including employee’s performance, or streamlining to meet customer demands.
FITE Press Release

The group had approached the Pune labour commissioner to submit a petition seeking the Maharashtra government’s intervention to “safeguard the employees’ rights”.

The concerns raised by FITE might be justified, according to Kris Lakshmikanth, founder and chief executive officer at talent acquisition company Head Hunters India. The recent protectionist sentiment in several onshore markets for IT companies has led to an increase in hiring abroad, and consequent reduction in the workforce in the offshore or India market, he said.

Automation is leading to job losses at the middle-management level, said Lakshmikanth, adding that a lot of the new hiring by IT companies is through campus placements. “Salaries paid by top IT companies to fresh hires in campus placement has not increased over the past 10 years. It has remained more or less static at Rs 3 lakh. Also, last year there were a few instances of a sharp reduction in the payment of the variable component of employees’ salaries,” said Lakshmikanth.

Where as in 2015-16, top performing employees were paid 200 percent of their variable salaries, in 2016-17 they were only paid 75 percent, he said.

The Legal Argument

It may seem absurd that highly educated IT professionals, who are almost universally viewed to have well-paying jobs, are seeking the protection of a workers’ union.

Such unions are usually seen manufacturing companies like in the automotive sector. They negotiate with managements on behalf of employees on issues like wages and working conditions, besides in cases of perceived wrongful hiring or firing.

Mumbai-based labour law expert Vinod Shetty, however, said the idea of a workers’ union for the IT sector is not so outlandish. “IT professionals have skilled, operational, technical jobs, and under the law, they could be allowed to form a labour union and be protected under the relevant labour law legislations,” said Shetty.

Putting Up A Tough FITE

FITE is attempting to garner more support for its cause. According to Raja, while IT professionals seem to empathise with the issues raised, they are only doing so on Whatsapp and on the FITE website.

Raja believes most fear reprisal by their employers, and therefore abstain from participating publicly. He concedes that while the group’s intention is to galvanise the IT workforce, the lack of participation has made his job a lot harder.

BQ Install

Bloomberg Quint

Add BloombergQuint App to Home screen.