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Threat of unionisation haunts India’s IT sector

Workers consider the recent lay-offs in Tata Consultancy Services as illegal and may form a formal IT workers’ union.

Shailendra Tyagi  New Delhi | 10th Jan 2015

Tata Consultancy Services CEO, N. Chandrasekaran during the announcement of the financial results of the company in Mumbai on 16 October 2014. PTI

Atul Khanna (name changed), a technology graduate in his mid thirties, was recently arraigned by his HR executive at Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) to inform him that he is being laid off for his under-performance. After serving for more than seven years as a mid-level executive at the TCS, the handling of the pink slip was enough to shake Khanna who is the sole earner for his family (earning 10 lacs/year) which has two school going children. "It is not about performance per se" he says, "The company is restructuring its workforce in favour of younger (entry level) recruits to cut its operational costs." Khanna explains that he comes within "C" ratings which consist of employees who give 100% of the targeted performance. More than 60% of TCS' 3 lakh workforce comes under "C" ratings. Generally the employees from "D" and lesser ratings are subjected to such treatment but only after giving them reasonable time to improve their performance, adds Khanna.

Khanna is one among 20,000 TCS' employees who are being asked to leave for vague reasons and therefore "such terminations are illegal" says Parimala, the Coordinator of the Chennai based Forum for IT employees (FITE). She demands TCS to come out with a white paper to explain their move. "After leveraging the productivity gains of experienced employees for so many years, the termination of senior people by TCS lacks transparency as well as social and moral rationale" adds Parimala. The FITE has already met the Labour Commissioner in Chennai who has assured them of taking up the issue with TCS next week.

Parimala fears that such a business model may well become an industry-wide practice, a reason her organisation is currently engaged in organising the employees of IT and IT enabled sector under one roof. "Going forward we may form a formal union" says Parimala. Parimala already has the signature of more than 250 employees. Many established employees unions (like CITU) are more than happy to take FITE's wish to its logical end. However, Khanna, like many others, is still undecided to join any union for the fear of being blacklisted by his company as well as by the industry itself.

"Some people are trying to use this as an opportunity to create the old economy's union in the new age (IT) industry" says a very senior professional of the Indian IT sector. "In an industry where employees work on their own calls, they do not need unions because no one stays on in a company for their entire life and therefore do not need the structure of unions to deal with labour issues" adds the source. The Indian IT industry has enough mechanisms for employees' grievance redressal within the organisation which are built by the employees themselves and the preference would be to use those mechanisms over creating a union.

Moreover, she adds, it is not about the old or the young workforce. There is a shift in technology that is taking place very swiftly across the technology space. Today we are talking about the new age Mobile App economy, Cloud computing, Analytics etc. and the budgets for IT today are all in the digital space, so clearly we need new skills in our work force to meet the newer demand from clients and whosoever reorients oneself towards the wanted skills would remain employed.

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