In a development that would have far-reaching consequences in Tamil Nadu’s information technology (IT) sector, the state government has made it clear that the labour legislations are applicable to all the IT and ITeS companies and that the IT firm employees are free to form a trade union.
The government has also pointed out the fact that the IT industry has not been exempted from the provisions of Industrial Disputes Act, 1947. The categorical clarification came from Kumar Jayant, principal secretary in the labour and employment department, Tamil Nadu, while responding to a petition by New Democratic Labour Front (NDLF), which sought action from the government on the vexed issue of ‘labour freedom’ in the IT companies.
“All the labour welfare legislations are applicable to all the IT and ITeS companies and they are being monitored by the enforcement officials for proper implementation of labour legislations and thereby ensures the welfare of the employees,” he said in a letter of May 30, 2016, addressed to Karpagavinayagam, organiser of NDLF.
Putting at rest the widely rumoured belief that IT employees are not allowed to form union, the principal secretary, said: “The IT company employees also are free to form trade unions and can redress their grievances through evoking the provisions of Industrial Disputes Act 1947.”
With the new clarification in place, the affected employees can approach the conciliation officers to redress their problems regarding retrenchment or termination or for any other grievance. “In case of any contravention of the provisions of the Act, IT employee may approach the concerned conciliation officer through their union and file an industrial dispute against the erring employer,” said the principal secretary. Detailing the steps being taken by the government, he said the inspectors of labour department are inspecting the IT companies on a routine basis.
In January 2015, following the illegal laying off of 25,000 employees by Tata Consultancy Services, NDLF stepped into action, conducted demonstrations and campaigns leading to the formation of an IT Employees Wing, which is touted to be the first trade union of IT employees in India.
Subsequently, NDLF filed a petition with the labour department requesting action to prevent such illegal practices by IT companies. As no action had been taken on the petition, a PIL was filed in the Madras High Court by NDLF, on which the court issued an order to the Tamil Nadu government to decide whether the IT industry would be covered under the Industrial Disputes (ID) Act or not. As the government did not act on the high court’s order even after 14 months, a contempt petition was filed in the Madras High Court which is scheduled to come up for hearing soon.
“Only after all this, the Tamil Nadu government has come forward to confirm the rights of IT employees. This shows that even to assert the basic rights of employees, it requires sustained and organised efforts by NDLF to move the government machinery into action,” NDLF said in a statement while calling upon the IT employees to organise themselves as a union under NDLF.
NDLF alleged that for the past 30 years or so, the corporates who run the IT industry have denied all basic and democratic rights to employees. They allegedly resorted to illegal hiring and firing practices, denied right to form trade union, adopted discriminatory rating systems and forced irregular working hours, among other things.