The IT Industry – an open invitation to Trade Unions?

A general misconception that the industry has nurtured for long, is that no Trade Union can be formed in an IT Company. In India Art, 19(1) (C) of the Constitution guarantees the Fundamental Right to form an association. So, when there are associations of Subordinate Judges, IT employees can’t be far behind. However, employees in the IT & ITES industry may not always be willing to join unions. IT employees are not always willing to equate themselves with blue collar workers and therefore, Trade Unions are not sure of employees joining them.

However, some practices adopted by the IT sector may soon flood IT companies with Trade Unions. Work in IT companies is unregulated, working hours are long and there is always a looming uncertainty of employment. The sword of termination always dangles atop the employee’s head. To add to this, salaries are frequently reduced at the approach of closure period of Gratuity and resignations are sought from employees just before completion of their 5 year continuous employment mark, to save on Gratuity amount. Therefore, Gratuity meant for the employee, earned by the employee through 5 hard years of uninterrupted work goes to the coffers of the Company. Lastly, in order to prevent drop-out ratio and stop employees from leaving work without notice, practices such as seeking bank guarantees, indemnity bonds, retaining original certificates, demanding post-dated cheques are also very common.

The law is unclear about the applicability of The Factories Act to IT Companies; the issue is pending before the Supreme Court and State enforcement machineries are reluctant to conduct inspections. That is why most IT employers get away with exploitative and unfair practices.

On such a background, when driven up the wall, employees either succumb to the pressure or approach militant organizations for recovery of their dues or redressal of grievances.

It is, however, interesting to observe how the same employers move heaven and earth to get things mended when militant Trade Unions come into the picture. The message therefore is sad but clear; very often, resorting to trade union militancy is the only way to enforce rights.

Of late, the news of Infosys employees leaving the Company has flooded newspapers. The main reason cited for such mass exodus is lower salary rise as compared to arch rival, TCS and senior executives leaving in groups. This has dented the morale of the younger IT employees, who, already reeling under the implications of low raises get a feeling that the ship is sinking when they see their seniors leave en masse. Why this issue begs mention in this article is because it has implications far more sinister than the eyes can see. Low raises and an idea of bleak career prospects may give rise to Trade Unionism as employees may want to form an organized association through which they can voice their concerns. Even though Infosys, one of India’s largest and most successful IT Companies, has concepts such as ‘town hall’ meetings and ‘jam sessions’ where employees have informal discussions with the management and the senior cadre of the Company, lack of visible steps and significant wage hikes may form the bedrock of Trade Union activities. In such circumstances, the management must ensure that all steps that it takes in relation to its Industrial Relations activities are in strict accordance with applicable labour laws. Further, the management should communicate with the employees in a clear and candid manner, informing them that all possible steps are being taken, in these recessionary times, to ensure timely wage hikes and labour welfare. Communication with employees is one of the most important factors that can make or break a management’s IR strategy.