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DMK hint to unionisation a cause for concern for the IT industry

TE Raja Simhan Chennai | Updated on April 01, 2019 Published on March 31, 2019

Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) President MK Stalin releases party's manifesto for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections at Anna Arivalayam, in Chennai, Tuesday, March 19, 2019.   -  The Hindu/K Pichumani

For four decades, the IT industry has managed to thwart any political interference or unionisation that could influence white-collared employees. But, this is now increasingly under threat. The DMK, in its election manifesto, has said that it will demand the Centre to set up a high level committee to address all issues faced by IT/ITES employees. The committee will comprise Central/State-level labour department officials, company representatives and IT employee representatives such as Forum for IT/ITES Employees (FITE), it added.

Though there was no direct reference to unionisation in the manifesto, the IT industry is a worried that the DMK is looking to introduce unionism as it wants to appease representatives like FITE. The forum has been championing the cause of having unions in IT companies for three years.

“It is too early to worry about this,” said Nagaraj Mylandla, Managing Director, Financial Software Services Ltd, on the DMK’s manifesto.

An official of Nasscom declined to comment, saying it is only a manifesto.

Resisting unions

Since the 1990s, IT vendors won deals by providing cheap labour to support clients’ needs on-site. However, this declined sharply with the advent of Cloud, and the impact of software-as-a-service. Employee retraining is the norm, and those who cannot keep up are dubbed non-performers and asked to leave.

This was prevalent three years ago, when a number of employees were laid off by majors such as Cognizant, Infosys, Tech Mahindra and Wipro — thus igniting the need for unions to protect them.

Historically, unionisation has been limited to sectors such as manufacturing to safeguard the interests of blue-collar workers. The IT industry had resisted unionisation, stating that there is a well-structured grievance cell for employees to follow up any issue they may have.

In May 2018, the Tamil Nadu Labour and Employment Department clarified that IT employees are free to form trade unions and seek redressal of work-related problems.

Earlier in November 2017, Karnataka’s labour department also approved an application to register a trade union exclusively catering to the interests of IT sector employees under the provisions of Trade Unions Act, 1926, and the Karnataka Trade Union Regulations, 1958. This opened up possible unionisation in the IT industry. But employees are still hesitant, fearing backlash.

Protect employee interests

The IT industry, which will report revenue of around $140 billion next fiscal, employs nearly 45 lakh (about 3 per cent of the organised sector) with 30 per cent being women. However, there are various employment-related issues, with is no government body to listen. The Centre should enact appropriate laws without delay, to ensure their job security and that women employees are provided equal opportunity, equal wages and workplace safety, the DMK manifesto said.

FITE president R Vasumathi said IT companies should recognise employee forums in each premise/building/campus to closely with management on employee-related issues and policies.

“Most of the IT companies can fire the employees at any time. We need to safeguard the rights of employees,” said DMK’s Poongothai Aladi Aruna, who was the IT Minister during the last DMK rule.

The upper age limit in the industry is around 45 years. “We don’t want these people to be shown the doors one day. They are still in the prime of their career and have many responsibilities. This is one of the reasons why we want to safeguard the IT employees. At the moment, the IT employees don’t have a huge voice in the companies that are mostly run by multinationals,” said Aruna.

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Published on March 31, 2019
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