Indian Division of European IT Firm Accused of Forcing Bench Staff to Resign
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Employees on the bench of an Indian division of an European multinational company are reportedly being forced to resign, failing which they are threatened with termination or a ‘poor performance’ tag.
In a letter to the labour commissioner on July 9, the Pune chapter of the Forum for IT Employees (FITE) accused IT and business services provider Atos Syntel of “unfair” and “forceful” termination. Nearly 700 to 800 techies, who are currently on the company’s bench, could potentially face similar fate, the IT employees’ body has alleged.
“We have been approached by both, freshers and laterals [employees with more than three years of job experience] who have been forced to submit their resignation at the earliest to Atos Syntel,” Padmaja Pawar of FITE told NewsClick, adding that such complaints have poured in from employees working at the company’s offices at Pune, Mumbai and Chennai. “These employees were put on bench around March-April period by the company,” she said.
In IT industry’s parlance, employees on bench are those who don’t work on any project but remain on company’s rolls. Typically, firms maintain a small percentage of bench employees so that new projects can be put to execution immediately.
In the aftermath of the COVID-19 triggered nationwide lockdown, when even the otherwise attractive IT industry went on a lay-off spree, bench employees inevitably became the first target.
One of the fresher from Atos Syntel’s Chennai-based office, who had to resign recently, shared their ordeal. “Last month, I was called by the HR manager who asked to resign, failing which either I were to get blacklisted or face termination,” said the employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “My training was completed only in February and final interviews were also conducted following which I was supposed to be assigned with a project, however, I was put on bench. While working from home, since March, every time I ask for projects, all I am being told is ‘to have patience’ and focus on the e-learning modules.”
The company has now allegedly invoked one of its policy, according to which, it is not bound to continue the contract of an employee who has not served more than twelve weeks, the employee added. “I made several calls, trying to convince the company officials to not to do this to me, but to no avail. Finally I had to resign.”
It was not a one-off case, as the employee found out later on, with several others in their batch also being barraged with phone calls, asking them to resign. “All of us are promised a three-month basic salary and six months experience certificate [only for freshers]. But, you tell me, is this enough in these difficult times?,” he asked.
Newsclick reached out to some of the HR employees to confirm whether such phone calls were made. While two of them didn’t answer the call, one who responded said that she is “not authorised to comment on the matter.” Email query sent to Atos Syntel and its European head company Atos also failed to get any response.
It is unfortunate, according to Pawar, that IT firms are threatening its employees with ‘poor performance’ tags that bear lasting implications on any employees’ career. “These performance remarks hold huge importance for an employee. Companies do background verification before recruiting and if it is revealed that a said employee is ‘blacklisted’, for whichever reason, 90 to 95% chance is that he or she will be rejected. Negative remarks, thus, makes it even more difficult for an employee to secure job in the future,” she said.
Moreover, if employees still don’t succumb to the pressure, they face termination which may result in hampering their full and final settlement processes, Pawar added.
But, not only such coercion by IT firms is unjust, it is also “illegal”, according to Kiran Chandra, who is the president of Forum of IT Professionals (ForIT) and is associated with the pan-India free software movement.
“Labour laws apply to IT firms as well. Any company cannot just throw out its employees by citing their non-performance. It is as much the responsibility of the company to reallocate its resources and ensure that work standards are met,” he said. “The retrenchments that we are witnessing currently are illegal and violates the provisions enlisted under laws governing these companies.”
Among such laws are the Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act, 1946, which define the conditions of employment; along with provisions under Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, which had laid down a due process before proceeding with retrenchments.
However, in another instance of flouting labour laws, Nasdaq-listed IT giant Cognizant Technology Solutions Corp. also executed mass lay-offs of thousands of its bench employees recently, that may affect nearly 18,000 employees across India.
IT professionals are often not aware of these laws, which also makes it easier for these firms to not follow the rights of an employee – which constitutes a part of company’s “profit maximisation tactics”, Chandra said. “This also presents an urgent need for the IT employees to unionise,” he added.
In the meantime, a tough choice has gripped another employee at Atos Syntel, who has also been asked to resign by the company. “I am still receiving calls from the HR who is forcing me to resign, in return of which I am being offered a three month basic salary,” said the employee, who, unlike the aforementioned one, has a seven-year work experience at Pune office of the same company. He didn’t wish to be named fearing action.
“I was put on a bench in the month of April, under company’s ‘progress improvement plan’,” the employee told NewsClick. This was the first time in his job period at Atos Syntel that his performance was questioned. “After completing the plan for a month, I started looking for projects, but was unable to secure one,” the employee further claimed.
“Now the company wants me to resign, as they are saying that it is ‘restructuring its manpower’,” said the devastated employee. “I have a family to feed and EMIs to pay. I don’t have any other job option currently, and going by the prevailing market condition I don’t think I will have it in the near future.”
Before submitting the resignation, this employee is mulling to approach the labour court, hoping for justice. “This is unfair to me and my colleagues. There is no other option but to fight this out legally now,” he said.
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