Trade Unions, Datta Samant and Software Programmers

 “This is not fair. My father had taken a loan to get me here. Who will pay it back?”

  • Cabin employee of Jet Airways who lost job during layoff

 

The Industrial Disputes Act under Section 2(s) defines a “Workman” as-

“Any person (including an apprentice) employed in any industry to do any manual, unskilled, technical, operational, clerical or supervisory work for hire or reward, whether the terms of employment be expressed or implied.”

Only exceptions are those working in armed forces and police force. Since definition is very broad, it includes every person who is doing manual, technical or clerical job. So those working in IT, ITES industry too get covered under this definition. But IT workers thought it was beneath their dignity to get themselves equated with workers, so stayed away from unions.

But recent news of TCS sacking thousands of employees has resulted in some employees joining trade unions like CITU . For first time unions had been able to gain foothold in sector which till now had avoided them.

“The TCS shock has opened the eyes of the IT professionals who have traditionally been reluctant to join the trade union movement… faced with retrenchment, IT professionals are now discovering the virtues of unionising.”

– A D Jayan, General Secretary of CITU-linked Association of IT Employees (AITE)

Before trade union leaders get euphoric, they also need face hard facts. IT programmers joining unions will be a temporary phenomenon, once TCS denies such rumours (which it had done) and assures them about them jobs, most of them will leave union.

TCS

 

This has happened earlier also, when Naresh Goyel of Jet airways announced layoff of 1900 junior level employees, air- hostesses, cabin crew etc. joined unions, but left unions when Naresh Goyel assured them that their jobs were safe.

“I have not been able to sleep all night. I apologise for what has happened…I request all of you to start work from tomorrow morning.”

  • Naresh Goyel, on reconsidering his decision to sack 1900 Jet Airways employees.

jet

 

Kind of bonding that is needed between unions and workers to make trade unionism a success is totally lacking in case of IT employees.

In case of manufacturing sector, the workers are stable i.e. they stay with same employer in same location for a long period of time, and secondly, the level of networking between them is very high. This helps in building a bond among themselves.

The workers expect union leader to take key decisions on their behalf i.e. those related to salary, productivity and working conditions. For this they need lot of faith in union leaders.

These factors are lacking in case of IT employees, in IT industry attrition level is high, they themselves negotiate their salary and level of networking is low.

In case of textile industry, Datta Samant used to negotiate wages, productivity and working conditions on behalf of workers. The workers had total faith in him.

When he successfully negotiated agreement on behalf of workers of Permier Motors, where the minimum wage was raised to Rs.1,000 a month from Rs.650 earlier, in gratitude, the workers donated Rs.10 each to buy him an air-conditioned Premier Padmini Deluxe, complete with a stereo to listen to the nostalgic film songs that he loved.

“The Premier settlement resulted in a production rate of 74 cars a day compared with the pre-strike level of 62, and truck output doubled to 10 a day, with the company posting profits for the first time in years.”

  • Dutta Samant, in interview to India Today in 1982.

 

Tactics used by Dutta Samant like making unreasonable demands, declaring strike, tearing off balance sheets and declaring them as fake etc. may have worked in manufacturing sector, but are not likely to work in IT sector.

This may result in companies shutting down their development centres in India and shift to some other country.

dutta samant

Even in 80s, some organisations like Indian Express, refused to negotiate with Dutta Samant, they preferred to close their office in Mumbai, than accept demands of Dutta Samant.

“Samant was ignorant of the fact that the Express group had implemented the Palekar wage  award. Kicking off with the irrelevant demand to implement the award, Samant then asked the management to award each worker a Rs.400 monthly wage hike only to cut it abruptly to Rs.200 after five minutes. Moments later he tried to settle for a minimum wage of Rs.1,000.”

  • Arun Shourie, Editor of Indian Express to India Today in 1982.

 

But Dutta Samant thought differently, he felt that his demands were reasonable and negotiations also resulted in higher productivity, which helped employers.

“Firstly, strikes and violent agitations are not the norm. It is not in more than 1 per cent of my units that the matter escalates into a strike. Secondly, at factories where we have reached a settlement my workers give at least 5 to 10 per cent extra productivity… I tell them that now that you have got your money you have to do your share.”

-Dutta Samant, in an interview to India Today in 1982.

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