Left Sheds Tears For Infotech ‘Slaves’

Updated: Jul 31 2002, 05:30am hrs
The Left is eyeing a new target group to pin its trade union badge - ‘IT slaves’. CPM, which is busy hiring and firing employees in its Kairali TV channel, is however not in the forefront, but its partner CPI is.

Even as the Antony government is focusing on Kerala Loading-unloading Bill 2002, catering to the needs of an altogether different segment, CPI legislators are highlighting the agonies of IT employees in the state.

The list of complaints is long and seems to belong to a different era. Bringing in gender issues as well, legislators lament girls in IT sector are made to work long hours and not provided transport at night. They are also sympathetic to unfed babies as their mothers toil away in IT factories. What is left unsaid is the Shops and Establishment Act cannot be made applicable to this new age business.

The Left also is not able to fathom the shocking pink slip phenomenon, even in profit-making companies. With the class consciousness of ‘slaves in coats and ties’ yet to be awakened, AITUC, the trade union arm of CPI, has decided to take up cudgels on behalf of the downtrodden. “It is not too easy, but we have decided to give it a try,” says a modest C Divakaran, general secretary, AITUC.

Recently, the fact that Kerala Technopark, which houses 60 companies and 5,000 employees, has no safety net for ‘workers’ struck CPI. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has referred the working conditions at the Technopark to AITUC. “Our first step would be to set up an employee union in Technopark,” says Mr Divakaran.

But AITUC is treading carefully as the state government is emphatic that trade unions are standing in the way of foreign direct investment in Kerala. “A slowly nurtured networking among employees in the Technopark is vital for their emotional health,” says Mr Divakaran.

Not to be beaten by the fellow-traveller’s soft corner for the IT underdog, CPM’s party mouthpiece Desabhimani ran a serial on the world of inequalities in the IT industrial relations.

CITU, the CPM’s union muscle, however, is in no mood to take up the cause of IT workers. “All said and done, AITUC is going to find this a thankless job,” says a senior CITU leader.

The first priority of CITU lies with the headload worker, whose bargaining power is under threat. Five years ago, the Technopark campus had been legally immunised from loading-unloading disputes through an injunction. During the IT expo two years ago even as the media highlighted a dispute between a headload union and a company, there were no work stoppages.

“This is a place with a different kind of work-ethics which elementary Marxism cannot explain. There is a contagious workaholism among software yuppies in the Technopark firms which makes them rush back to their project in the middle of an occasional midnight party,” says Rajiv Vasudevan, CEO, Thiruvananthapuram Technopark. Supriya M, a young staffer in a Technopark, brushes aside any question of suppressed frustration. “If we are exploited, we enjoy it,” she adds.