By Ruma Dubey
TCS has probably opened a can of worms, nay, a nest of snakes. The venom is so potent; it could maim the Indian IT industry.
This might seem like sensationalism news, like what we “one billion people of India” are used to seeing on TV but this is a fact. The IT industry, which till date does not have trade unionism, is now under threat. The news which floated in few days ago, that TCS was sacking some 25,000 employees, really sent jitters across the sector. TCS clarified that it was not 25,000 but some 3000 ‘underperformers’ and this was a part of its workforce restructuring.
When this news broke out, many employees of TCS got together and formed a loosely structured union to fight the management and prevent this sacking, known as Forum for IT Employees (FITE) and employees of TCS in Chennai and Bengaluru took the agitation to the streets to draw attention to their rights.
And this opened up a literal floodgate. Like a predator smelling blood, all bit banner trade unions - left-wing CITU, right-wing BMS and INTUC, all have taken it up as their responsibility to “save” the employees of TCS. For them, this is a golden opportunity to bolster their strength. For years now, trade unions have tried to get a foothold in the IT sector but to no avail. CITU did form its Association of IT Employees in 2006 but its majority of its 30,000 members are from the Govt, AITUC’s New Generation IT Employees Union has been in existence since 2012 and its has some 1300 members only while INTUC’s Kerala State IT and Allied employees Association has no relevance. Thus it is quite understandable that these unions wanting to sink their teeth into this juicy pie.
This brings to mind two questions – 1) why is it that trade unions never got a standing in IT sector and 2) if Unions start ruling in this ‘last Shanghai’ how detrimental could that turn out for the IT sector?
Firstly, why no trade unions in IT till date? Well, a talk with some in the sector reveals that majority of the workforce being white collared, professional employees, somehow, there was never a common ‘cause’ for which they all came together and fought. The attitude amongst professionals unlike the blue collared factory shop worker is they do not need unions to protect themselves, they feel their performance alone decides their fate in the company. As a professional each one performs for oneself and there is no ‘unity’ like the blue-collared. And most feel that unionism is for not for them and quite happy with it.
Then there is also the fear of getting black listed. If employees are known to create trouble in one IT company, they getting hired in another IT company will become very difficult.
Most important of all – trade unionism is for those who seek job security, for those wanting to stick around in one company till they retire. But in IT, people do not seek job for security; it is always for better work content and higher pay and that is why this sector has probably one of the highest attrition rates. Thus in that context, what exactly will a trade union in IT industry work for?
And many feel that lack of unionism is probably the reason why the sector is able to perform so well, with no restriction to carry laggards just because the union demands so. IT is very people-centric, the entire business is run by people skills thus if unions come and restrict whom to hire or fire, it could seriously jeopardize the business.
TCS probably needs to quickly define what it means by ‘underperformers’ and give legitimate reasons, based on appraisals and performances to explain the layoffs. In IT industry, really, trade unions should have no place because the sector is purely driven by performance alone. And if one does not perform, he/she is liable to get sacked; even for cost cutting only the poor performers should go. Getting trade unions to dictate terms to this highly people-oriented business will sound the death knell for the sector.