CHENNAI | MUMBAI: Another attempt at mobilising support to champion the cause of IT employees perceived to be facing the axe from large service providers such as Cognizant Technology Solutions is gathering momentum.
A bunch from the workforce in Chennai is preparing for conciliation proceedings with the state labour department in what they claim is a fight against retrenchment. Cognizant president Rajeev Mehta told ET categorically there is no retrenchment.
The company recently introduced a voluntary separation programme for top-rung staff to accelerate its shift to delivering more digital services and align the workforce to meet growth targets.
Reportedly, Cognizant may also increase involuntary exits from its workforce during the current appraisal cycle. As the first step, employees who believe the company is adopting unfair methods to let go of some of its workforce have rallied behind a go-to front for IT grievances to petition the state government.
The Forum for IT Employees (FITE), which helped an employee litigate against retrenchment in the Madras High Court, has now sent representations to assistant labour commissioners in certain districts and the state labour commissioner urging the state government to urgently intervene in what it terms “illegal termination”. “We have submitted a representation with the state government as of now. The plan is to formally file for conciliation, which is the first step before the issue can be taken to labour courts,” Vinodh AJ, general secretary of FITE, told ET.
Two years ago, the forum won a stay on the firing of a TCS employee in the Madras HC, which also directed the state government to ascertain if employees with IT companies can be covered under the Industrial Disputes Act.
The judge questioned if IT employees can be viewed as “workmen” under the act. Months later, the state labour secretary Kumar Jayant wrote to the New Democratic Labour Front (NDLF) — another front for IT employee rights — saying IT employees are free to form unions and no IT company can be seen exempt of the provisions of the ID Act. Cognizant has maintained the exits are nothing out of the ordinary. “I would like to set the record straight,” Mehta told ET.
“There are no retrenchments. This was part of your annual appraisal cycle and the voluntary separation programme is to ensure we have the right teams and the right skills in areas like digital. I do not want to comment on any unionisation because it would be speculative. But we continue to hire people with the right talent.”
Analysts said the attempts to unionise are a natural progression in an industry in the throes of change brought by disruptions like Artificial Intelligence and automation. Industry body Nasscom has repeatedly said hiring trends will enter a new order where demand for niche skills increases even as automation and other technologies render older skills redundant. “I can’t say what is going to happen but as the news of layoffs gets louder you could expect more such things.
The IT industry has clout because it employs so many people and if there are layoffs, it begins to take on a political aspect as well. But I think in an industry with so many young people, it might be hard to create a union,” said an analyst with a Mumbai-based brokerage, who declining to be identified.