Knowledge Workers United

DQI Bureau
New Update

Trade unions in the IT/ ITeS industry-good or bad? The debate

has begun. The sharp words and fervent tones denote that a rough patch is ahead.


A trade union is an organized attempt by workers to improve

their status, primarily focused on blue-collar workers. And by all legal or

social norms there is no reason to have them in the IT/ ITeS industries. Today

there are local unions, state unions, national unions, and now even global

unions like the Union Network International. So, internationally, unions have

some role to play-though it has been much more visible in recent years. But

the Indian conditions and needs could be very different.



against unions say that demand for workers is so high that they are,

in any case, treated like royalty. So where is the need for a union?

For the current debate raging in India the pro union arguments

say that there are many areas where collective voices and bargaining is

imperative. Long hours, unfair terms for contract employees, layoffs without

notices, lack of training, unhealthy work conditions, etc, are quoted as some of

the areas. Those against unions say that unions are not needed in this industry.

Most companies have open door policies and have avenues to handle grievances of

their employees. The industry employs people who move up-or out-on the basis

of skill and not seniority. And the demand for workers is so high that they are,

in any case, treated like royalty. So where is the need for a union?


There's truth on both sides. But it's not black and white.

Every company is different, and, in this industry, which is on the way to

maturity, there are growing pains. While some companies may indeed be following

international best practices there are many-especially the small to medium

size ones-who may not be offering appropriate working conditions.

Speaking to a few young employees one got the impression that

they were either unaware of the issue or not really concerned. For them, it's

something for the upper echelons to tackle. Others who have moved into the BPO

industry from elsewhere, especially from the IT industry, feel it's a good

move which will provide them a platform to voice their opinions and be heard.

None of them are joining the queue to unions-in case they are formed-and

would weigh all the pros and cons before taking a call.

The fear that's running through the Indian industry is the

traditional trade unionism seen in India. Political agendas in hand, workers

yelling themselves hoarse, closed establishments, losses. Especially in an area

that is service dependent, works 24x7x365, has a low tolerance for inadequate

services, and would also have international legalities involved. It could mean

substantial slowdown of the very impressive growth rates that the Indian

industry has achieved.

So, would it be possible to have unions that share the

responsibilities of making this industry thrive in a constructive manner? The

ITeS industry reels under attrition and a union could help to curb the problem.

If a worker stays on for longer, it translates into cost savings for the

company. Would the unions help in this? Or would they guarantee that any

collective action would not disrupt services? And if they call bandhs for some

other reason, will they exempt this industry? Would they support the tax

benefits or the subsidies that the industry may require in the development of

new locations? In other words, the unions may have to reinvent their own vision

and purpose if they want to support the industry. This would mean taking out all

hidden agendas. Tall task there, especially when the push and shove is likely to

be politically managed.

If all this can happen it would be a win-win-win for employees,

unions, and the industry.