Trade Unions and infotech employees lambasted the government’s decision to extend the IT industry’s special “exemption” status by five more years as a gross error which they said would allow the industry to continue unjust practices.
“This is a bad move,” said Rajesh N, president of the Karnataka chapter of the Forum for IT Employees, adding that the sector had already been the beneficiary of 15 years of exemptions from labour laws.
“The government believes that its actions will help companies create more jobs; what companies are instead doing is using the lapses in regulation to do whatever they want,” he said.
According to V J K Nair, president of the Karnataka IT and IT Enabled Services Employees Union (KITU), about 10,000 IT employees in the state had been the victims of unfair dismissals or retrenchment last year alone, which Nair said is emblematic of the overarching powers that IT companies enjoy because of their special status.
This is a view backed by Satyanand M, secretary of the All India Trade Union Congress who criticised the government for not consulting Unions, employees and other stakeholders before approving the extension. “The arbitrary decision ignores the plight of the 10 lakh IT workers in this state,” he said.
One of those workers is Mahesh (named changed), a junior-level infotech employee working on a contractual basis with a well-known company in Manyatta Tech Park. He said that the non-regulation of the industry had resulted in widespread abuses within the sector over working hours, pay and benefits.
“I was hired by a consultancy company at a pay scale of Rs 3 lakh per annum, but when I was sub-contracted, my pay-scale shrunk by half. There is no one I can approach to address this,” he said.
According to the conditions of the exemption, IT companies are supposed to form committees to address sexual harassment at workplace and handle employee grievances.
However, when the Labour Department surveyed the companies with over 50
employees in the state about compliance with the directives, only 48 companies responded.
“This means that only 48 companies have set up the required committees,” said Satyanand, adding that 1,800 IT companies are registered in Bengaluru.
S S Nakul, Director of the Department of Information Technology, Biotechnology and Science and Technology, defended the move.
“The work that IT companies do is not measurable by any factor like infrastructural companies, whose construction works can be measured. The exemption gives companies and startups the freedom and creativity to advance. They must be given some liberty.”