Does India's booming information technology and information technology-enabled services (IT/ITES) industry, which employs almost one million professionals, require a trade union to fight for its rights?
The Leftist trade unions insist that it is high time the massive industry, which contributes more than 4.5 per cent to the country's national economic output, had a trade union to protect their jobs.
The Indian ITES-BPO (business process outsourcing) industry aggregated revenues to the tune of $5.2 billion in 2004-05.
The proposal to forge a union for IT workers has now come from the Centre for Indian Trade Unions (CITU) -- the trade union wing of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) -- the largest Left party in the country.
So why do white-collar IT professionals need a trade union?
"A union for IT workers is the urgent need of the hour. I would call the IT professionals 'the labourers of the information age.' They toil long hours; they work at night; and some of them still get meager salaries. So a labour union for them would help fight for their rights," CITU president M K Pandhe told rediff.com.
According to Pandhe, the main reason why CITU has mooted the idea is because the IT industry is not governed by any labour laws. "The IT industry continues to chart remarkable double-digit growth. But isn't it ridiculous that the IT workers are working hard without the backup of any labour laws?" he asks.
"Workers in the IT and ITES industry work for 10 to 14 hours daily. There are no fixed timings for them. The moment the IT professionals get together to discuss their problems at work, the management victimizes them and they are shown the door," Pandhe pointed out.
To begin with, CITU, in collaboration with other Left-unions -- like the All India Trade Union Congress, want the Union government to enact a law separately to deal with the labour issues of the IT industry.
"Yes, there is an urgent need for a labour law exclusively for the IT industry. It is the one sector that is booming across India, and we need to frame a legislation for IT workers. We are going to take up the issue with the Manmohan Singh government soon," said Community Party of India national secretary D Raja.
How are the Left trade unions going ahead to form the unions for IT workers?
"It is not going to be easy. Already, we have begun the process to hold consultations with many senior IT employees in places like Kolkata, Bangalore, Chennai and Trivandrum (Thiruvananthapuram). We do hope to establish a proper union soon," Pandhe pointed out.
Left leaders say there is also already tremendous backing from the Union of Network International, a global alliance of 900 trade unions, to forge an IT industry workers union in India.
"IT industry professionals in India are 'cyber coolies.' We are trying to organise them and convince them on the need to form a union to fight for their rights and jobs protection," said Narayan Ram Hegde, who works for the Union of Network International in India.
But, Hegde says the task is not going to be easy because young IT professionals always have a negative image of trade unions in India.
The move to form a union for IT workers is not new. In fact, as early as in 2000, Left leaders attempted to organise a union for Indian software programmers in Bangalore, the hot-spot of the country's IT industry. But the move to form a forum did not succeed then as programmers baulked at the prospect of joining any union.
However, a number of organisations for IT professionals now exist at the state level in Hyderabad (in Andhra Pradesh) and Bangalore (in Karnataka).
One of them is the 'IT Professionals Forum.' The forum is currently believed to have around 1,000 members and it is affiliated to the Union of Network International. It claims to have offices in Bangalore, Hyderabad, Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai.
"If you are a discerning IT professional, feeling the need to be part of a global network of professionals, then here is a forum, a platform specifically meant for you," says the forum's Web site (http://www.itpfindia.org/in).
Left leaders say the idea now is to broad base this forum into a politically empowered union that can demand and stand up for the rights and protection of IT workers.
How has the IT industry leaders reacted to the Left move to create a union for IT workers?
Here is what some of them said:
Kiran Karnik, President, National Association of Software and Services Companies (Nasscom): "Employees in IT and ITES sector do not need any external intervention as they are looked after very well. It is not a good move and I don't think it would succeed. The employees who think of themselves as the CEOs of the future may not support it."
R Vidyasagar, Director (HR), Philips Software India: "There is no need for a third party intervention and it did not augur well for the industry. I feel that unionism will not take off as employees will not like to be led by somebody else. We need to maintain our pre-eminence in the IT and ITES sector as countries such as China are fast catching up."
Raman Roy, ex-CEO, Wipro BPO: "I have no problems with a union in the BPO industry, as long as it guarantees that no employee will leave the organisation before one year. The union should work with the BPO industry to control the menace of attrition."
Prosenjit Ganguly, Head (HR), HTMT, a BPO firm: "The move to unionise workers is a retrograde step and would spell disaster for the industry. After having reached this level, any attempt to unionise the workers would set us back."