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Moonlighting by Employees a Response to Growing ‘Livelihood Insecurity’, say IT Unions

They call the latest action of terminating 300 employees, on the charges of working for its competitors, by Bengaluru-headquartered Wipro, a “blatant threatening” move.
IT firm

Representational use only.Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

New Delhi: IT unions hit out at the major firms in the country's services industry for coming down heavily on employees over the prevailing moonlighting trend in the sector, as they urged organisations to look at dual employment not as "cheating" but as a response to the emergence of "livelihood insecurity" among the latter.

Companies must also avoid using their "so-called zero tolerance" for those moonlighting as an alibi, for now, demanding the employees to return to offices against their wishes, union leaders said on Friday, underlining that the practice of having a side-hustle is not new within the IT services industry.

According to them, the latest action of termination of employees, on the charges of working for its competitors, by at least one major IT firm is a "blatant threatening" move.

If companies are having concerns over moonlighting, then at first, they must address employees' grievances over inadequate job satisfaction and the latter's need for additional sources of income, leaders said.

Moonlighting, which can also be understood as having dual employment, refers to the practice of employees taking up other jobs in addition to regular employment. While most IT companies have legal contracts with a clause that prevents an employee from working for anybody else, remote working in recent years, necessitated by the pandemic-triggered challenges, increased the chances of moonlighting – the work-from-home mode made monitoring employees relatively difficult.

In one of the first instances in the IT industry, highlighting the annoyance of companies with moonlighting, Bengaluru-headquartered Wipro said earlier on Wednesday this week that it had fired 300 employees for an "act of integrity violation", as they were found to be working for its competitors simultaneously. The company's executive chairman Rishad Premji made the revelation while he was speaking at one of AIMA's National Management Conventions in Delhi.

The claim was made days after Premji took to microblogging website Twitter to share his disapproval of the practice, saying that moonlighting by employees in the tech industry is "cheating". Likewise, earlier this month, in a parallel development, another IT major, Infosys, warned its employees against dual employment, stating it is not permitted in accordance with the company's code of conduct.

According to media reports, among the concerns of companies when their employees take up another job include conflict of interest, data breach, and loss in productivity. To use this then as an argument to act against those moonlighting, however, hasn't gone down well with the IT unions, which claim that there are genuine reasons that push an employee to take up more than one job.

Chennai-based Union of IT and ITeS Employees Union (UNITE) general secretary Alagunambi Welkin told Newsclick on Friday that the decision to take up a "side" job is often driven more by the need to have an extra source of income or to monetise their other skills, then to what the companies might want to think.

"If one factor in inflation, we find that for decades, salaries of entry-level and mid-level jobs in the IT industry has remained stagnant in the country," Welkin claimed, adding, "There is growing livelihood insecurity among those entering the services industry. Hence, most among them are only forced to look for additional sources of income."

A recent Kotak Institutional Equities survey of 400 people across the IT/ITeS sector revealed that 65% of the respondents had admitted they themselves/know someone who has engaged in moonlighting while working from home, according to a report by The Hindu Business Line.

Arguing that the concept of moonlighting is not new, Welkin said that the growing trend of those opting for it must be viewed by taking into account the worsening economic situation in the country, which has made making ends meet even for an IT employee a "difficult thing".

"There is also lack of job satisfaction within the employees, who view their companies as working nothing but for profits," he said, pointing towards the recent cost-cutting measures taken by the tech firms in the name of optimising wage bills, which has made the "employees come to this conclusion that companies do not think about their welfare."

On Friday, Harpreet Singh Saluja, president of Pune-based Nascent Information Technology Employees Senate (NITES), accused the companies of using the issue over moonlighting to now emphasise employees to return to offices.

"The so-called zero-tolerance against moonlighting is being used as an alibi because very few employees are ready to go back to offices, even as they have been offered multiple perks," he said.

Calling Wipro's move to terminate services of employees a "blatant threatening" move, Saluja said it would add to employees' jitters. Asked about companies' concerns over the safety of their data and conflict of interest, he argued that, in such cases, the said charges must be proved before any action against an employee is taken.

"If an employee is engaged in task-based freelance jobs or content creation for social media platforms while fulfilling his role as a regular employee, then the companies must not have any issue," he said, further adding that full-time dual employment is not "possible only" of an IT employee, who is often asked to work for close to 12-15 hours in a day.

Meanwhile, even as both the union leaders, while speaking on Friday, flayed the IT companies for their warnings against employees engaged in moonlighting, they provided different suggestions when asked how to respond to the latest developments.

While Welkin of UNITE pressed the IT companies to first "engage more" in dialogues with the employees to address their grievances over financial difficulties and inadequate job satisfaction, Saluja of NITES demanded that the state governments intervene.

"The Right to Life under the Constitution also includes the right to an adequate means of livelihood. Hence, the state government must see whether terminating employees over moonlighting stands the legal test," Saluja said.

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