Kolkata: West Bengal is poised to be the fourth state, after Karnataka, Tami Nadu and Maharashtra, where the Information Technology (IT) sector employees will have a trade union of their own. The informal outfit, which has applied for registration, wants to function as an ‘apolitical’ organisation.
The move comes 13 years after a political initiative with the same objective could not make the desired headway as “unity of IT workers” then was “not taken kindly” by the IT corporates which were at that time “being wooed vigorously” by several states. “Moreover, IT employees then, because of relatively higher take-home salary, were regarded as belonging to a creamy layer of the working class and it was not easy to make them see the need for unionisation,” Somnath Bhattacharya of the Centre for Indian Trade Unions (CITU), who was actively involved in the union formation exercise in 2006, told NewsClick while explaining the ground reality of that time.
“The task of creating awareness among the IT employees remains challenging even now, but given the problems being faced by the employees on several counts, the expectation is that the task of convincing them to come under the fold of union would not be daunting. After all, 2019 cannot be compared to 2006,” said Santanu Bhattacharya, president of the Kolkata Forum of IT Employees (FITE). Registration has been sought under the name and style of FITE under the Trade Union Act, 1926. The state’s Registrar of Trade Union has called them for hearing on August 5.
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The West Bengal IT sector currently has a strength of 1.5 lakh plus people, about 30% of which are females. “It will be a modest beginning. We hope to have a membership of 5,000 plus in a few months after the launch. All the key segments – IT, IT enabled Services (ITeS), Business Process Outsourcing (BPO), Knowledge Process Outsourcing and Telecom – will have representation in the proposed union. We are on the path of creating awareness through WhatsApp”, Bhattacharya added.
Rajarshi Dawn, general secretary of FITE, listed the problems being faced by the employees while making it clear that the nature of the problems varies from company to company. In the Multi National Companies (MNCs) and other large companies, job security is a major concern. They do have formal HR policies, which are mostly at par with the government regulations of the state where they are located. However, those HR policies often remain on paper and employees are forced to extend their working hours, assigned week-end duty, forced to do night shifts and, to top it all, compelled to accept one-sided agreements. And then there are instances of sexual harassment of women employees and reluctance to allow legally-due maternity benefits.
“We have been informally functioning since December 2014 when Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) had announced layoffs of 25,000 of its employees. In March 2017, Cognizant started acting against its employees. On both occasions, we counselled employees on how to proceed legally and handle the situation calmly at HR meetings,” Dawn claimed.
The situation in small and medium-scale companies, to say the least, is inhuman. In addition to the hardships experienced by employees in the large companies, their counterparts in small and medium-scale outfits have to forego salary for being late even by 5-10 minutes. Some companies do not deposit Provident Fund amount even after deduction from employees’ salary. There is no provision for medical benefits and at times, they have to work for 14-18 hours at a stretch. Jobs can be terminated any time without a formal letter and compensation, according to Dawn.
‘Performance Improvement Plan (PIP)’ is a dreaded tool to exert pressure on employees in large IT firms. When supervisory executives talk about it, it is a signal to employees rated bucket 4 – lowest rating – that their days are numbered.
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Bhattacharya informed that if they have unions with the same name, FITE, in seven states, they will be entitled to form a federation. He expects to get recognition for their union in about 5-6 weeks.
CITU’s Bhattacharya informed that their union’s registered name was IT Services’ Association. “We had launched a membership drive and fought several victimisation cases. We had forced Wipro to talk to us. But, I must admit, the IT sector is a different world.”
The CITU leader also highlighted the fact that the New Delhi-based V V Giri National Labour Research Institute had in one of its studies described IT sector employees in the lower rungs as “cyber coolies”.