Kolkata, September 23: Animesh Dey (name changed on request) was a white-collar employee in the IT sector in the state. Employed by Infosys, Dey had taken a housing loan to finance his apartment in an upmarket suburb in the city. The COVID-19 lockdown, however, resulted in him losing his job, and his whole world came crashing down, loan sharks in tow. Dey, who died by suicide later, is not alone. Debt and loan sharks are hounding software professionals in the state who are increasingly resorting to taking their lives. The pandemic has made the situation untenable for some.
Later, Dey’s family got relief of Rs eight lakhs from his company, that too after mediation by the West Bengal IT employees’ union. However, others have not been this lucky, rued Surojeet Bose, President of the West Bengal chapter of the All India IT and ITES Workers Union.
The Union has got a total strength of 8,000 members, out of which West Bengal contributes about 4,375 workers; the total number of IT workers is over 40,000. Prior to the lockdown, the general perception was that the IT industry was the safest to work in and that there was no need to unionise. However, the lockdown split the industry wide open. BPP and KPO workers are not being paid as much while programmers, who are paid between five and eight lakh rupees per annum, are also suffering from insecurities and fear job losses.
There has been reason to fear. Even Souvik Bhattacharya, the all India General Secretary of the Union, has lost his job twice. Bose pointed out that a female HR manager is paid lesser than her male counterpart by about 18% to 20%, hinting at gender discrimination.
“There should be standardisation of salaries and leaves like menstruation leaves should be given. Entry level jobs have 51% females while that figure is about 25% in the upper echelons,” said Brishti bose(name changed on request).
The union has tried to intervene in cases of forced retrenchments, even resorting to going to the Supreme Court. Most industry professionals do not have any medical insurance cover hence the union is trying to provide them with group insurance cover.
The workers union believes the pandemic is “being used to increase exploitation in the unorganised sector” and that ‘work from home’ fosters “divisiveness and insecurity”. It was the sentiment at the IT and ITES workers’ meeting at their first conference in Kolkata recently. A total of 110 delegates spread across the IT sector took part in the programme and took an oath to stop exploitation across the sector.
Legal expert and Rajya Sabha MP Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya inaugurated the conference and stressed that workers in the sector were being exploited, saying eight hours of work was a fundamental human right which cannot be violated. He mentioned that corporates were taking advantage of the same and were “building empires built on these profits”.
Addressing the delegates at the conference, Bhattacharya cautioned that attempts were being made in the form of threats and doles to “break the unity of the workers in the sector”.
A 51-member state council was constituted at the conference with Chinangshu Das as state general secretary and Surjeet Bose as president of the state chapter of the union.