Even IT Employees can form a Union ….!!!

HCL strikeThe following article is written by K Khan{{1}}, an IT employee working with a software firm in Bangalore and a member of All India IT Employee Association (AIITEA). The article, while referring to the very recent protests by HCL fresh recruits who have been kept on the wait list by the company for over a year, but also talks about the prevailing bad working conditions in the Indian software industry. This has been often glossed over not only by the corporate controlled media and the pro- IT industrialist Governments, but even worse by all the main TU’s.

With the world economy in deep crisis, the IT workers have started to feel the pinch and the much admired IT bosses are now beginning to show their true colours.

The neo liberal regimes in India, in various states as well in Center, irrespective of the ideological positions of the parties in power, have meticulously created these artificial islands of “knowledge workers” to separate them from other sections of workers engaged in struggle for the precise fear of what it means in terms militancy edge if these educated youth join the ranks of the overall working class struggles for emancipation from wage slavery.

We also feel that the labour movement can be galvanized by bringing in these fresh layers in to struggle, as all these workers who are predominantly young men and women are very well equipped to grasp the political realities and complexities given their knowledge of technology and the Internet through which the methods of organisation and struggle has seen a sea change in the recent period. There talents if properly utilised can be of an enormous advantage to the struggle against the system of capitalism itself.

New Socialist Alternative (CWI-India) is in complete solidarity with the strike of the HCL workers and feels that democratic unionisation is the only way forward for the IT workers to fight for better working conditions and also to win the fundamental rights of Trade Unions to organise in their workplaces and strike if need be.

Only this way can the IT youth gel their social weight within the society and strive along with other radical sections who are fighting to establish a system of social equality, with out any form of oppression based on class, caste, gender,sexuality nationality, language and religion.

Editors
socialism.in

 

The recent protests, by employees of HCL in front of HCL offices in different parts of the country has once again raised the point that though the IT and ITeS sector in India is growing, unfortunately there has not been much efforts by the employees themselves to collectively raise their voice against exploitation of labour.

Lack of Unionization, Why?

The question that comes to the mind is: why is it that in India, till date there has been no attempt to create employee union or association in the White Collared Private Employment Sector, not just the IT and ITeS sector?

One of the reasons that many people attribute to is that Private sector white collared employees are highly well paid and the organizations themselves make sure that the employee needs are taken care of. But the truth is that because the IT and ITeS sector contributes significantly to the GDP of the nation, nobody wants to risk negatively impacting the growth of this industry. While even the Government agencies acknowledge that there are many inherent problems in the companies, but all concerned officials would like to stay away from interfering into the HR management of IT companies, because the lash back would be very strong.

One can recall the fact that about 4-5 months ago, a senior officer from the Labour department of the Government of Karnataka had recommended to not extend the blanket waiver / exemption from Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act for IT and ITeS companies. But after a very brief coverage in the news, and several transfers of officials, the IT industry was provided an extension again. (See: Karnataka govt likely to exempt IT companies from Industrial Act till April)

The recent protests by the HCL employees is just the tip of the iceberg indicating the amount of resentment amongst employees working in the IT firms with regards to employee harassment, intimidation, exploitation and bullying etc.

Stressed Out Because of Work

A research conducted by NIMHANS{{2}} of Bangalore has reported a shocking finding that over 36% of techies suffer serious psychotic disorders. 1 in every 20 IT professionals contemplates suicide, says NIMHANS study. Also 27.6% of IT professionals in India are addicted to narcotic drugs says the study. Suicides, health problems, discord in family due to work pressure and long and uneven work schedules has severely strained the delicate family and social fabric of the society. 

The phrase “Employee Burnout” became popular in the IT industry and HR organizations started to scramble from corner to corner to find out new ways of keeping the employee motivated and in high spirit. 14-18 hours of work in office every day is considered normal in the IT Industry, and it can be challenged to anyone who denies this fact. (See: Stressed Out in India’s Tech Capital)

Countries like India have seen a sudden surge in promiscuity among the youth due to the BPO/ Call Center culture where in through subtle ways, the Management of the companies coerces employees into a culture of living on the fast lane and exploring the route of promiscuity as a stress buster.

One can read shocking stories of suicides reported in the news. There are several incidents where in the employee has left behind suicide notes blaming their immediate supervisor/manager or management itself for the extreme step and yet nothing seems to be done by the Government of India to protect from further damage to the society.

Divorce rate is highest among IT Professionals and yet there is no wake up call for determining the root cause and taking immediate corrective actions. Marital discord is also reported to be the highest among IT professionals. In many families both the father and mother are working long hours, and unable to give sufficient attention towards child care leading to neglected childhood among children and it remains to be seen as to how this will impact the society on the long term.

Unionization is the Only Way Forward!

In such conditions it is appalling to note that not many employees are able to muster the courage and form a union or association, for being able to collectively raise their voice against exploitation and harassment.

A few months ago the headlines in almost all major news papers reported that the Karnataka State Government panel proposed biometric profiling of all IT professionals to prevent impersonation (See: Govt panel proposes biometric profiling of all IT professionals). This is a complete violation of employee privacy, yet the Government and the Managements are all sold out on the idea of biometric tracking of employees. If this is not slavery, then what is?

Ironically, last week it was reported in the news that many large IT companies have not honoured the job offers they rolled out to the thousands of the fresh engineering graduates (to extent of even after 18 months now). Now, if there was an employee union or association, the employees would have been in a better position to raise the question of equality and how the NASSCOM and the same Government plans to ensure that companies do not resort to such tricks in the future thereby exploiting labour.

In many IT companies, employees complain that they have felt cheated many times in their career because the job description provided at the time of screening and interviews is totally different from what they are asked to do after they join. One can wonder what would be the response of these Govt representatives on how they plan to ensure that misrepresentation of job description can be reduced. But it appears that while they burn the mid-night oil to find ways of preventing employee impersonation, they have not thought of such common management tricks of misrepresenting the job descriptions at the time of screening and interviews.

Had there been a strong employee union or association, then these employees would not just have been demanding joining dates, but instead have been in a position of seeking lost pay, increments and promotions etc., to compensate for the time lost, experience not gained, mental agony/torture caused and lives wasted.

In this context, a couple of concerned IT employees have moved forward and initiated the registration of an Employee Association. More information regarding the aims and objectives of the association can be found on the website: http://www.aiitea.org. (All India IT Employee Association). This association was started because the only other two associations of IT Employees in India are specifically for the employees of IT Companies in West Bengal and Kerala. Incidentally these associations do not appear to be active.

Some of the immediate demands of the AIITEA are to draw the attention of the Government to create a proper pension plan for the IT Professionals, conducting an employee well being survey across the industry by each company that is registered on and to publish these survey reports online so that employees can see how their company fares against another in terms of employee well being (not a simple salary survey, but a comprehensive employee satisfaction survey to highlight areas such as recruitments, promotions, work culture, conflict management, manager bullying etc). Creating and listing out HR rules and policies approved by the Government agencies, that clearly specifies what is allowed and what is not allowed in order to protect and safeguard employee interests as well.

K Khan

All India IT Employee Association (AIITEA)

[[1]] Name Changed [[1]]
[[2]] National Institute of Mental Health & Neuro Sciences [[2]]