The focus has been on wooing industry, and not workers and their welfare
Earlier this month, a large group of engineering graduates sat on a daylong hunger strike, protesting against a leading IT major, HCL Technologies, for failing to deliver on jobs they were offered during campus recruitments.
This unprecedented protest, many believe, is not just about one company suddenly running out of jobs to offer, but is symptomatic of a larger malaise in this ‘sunshine’ industry; where stagnating growth and narrowing business margins are beginning to take a toll on workers and their welfare. Recent activism around IT welfare has included job frauds where young graduates are cheated of deposit money and salaries by fly-by-night operators, non-payment of wages by small companies and lack of adequate security for women employees.
Yet, these protests and the larger sense of disenchantment among these workers — who constitute a sizeable section of Bangalore’s white-collar workers — have gone completely unregistered with the political parties in the State. Barring passing references to providing an “investment-friendly climate” for industry (in general), there is no mention of the sector, or its workers, in any of the manifestos. Even parties such as the Lok Satta, which typically draw electoral support from middle and upper-middle class sections, have given this a miss.
A few parties, such as the Congress and the BSR Congress, have promised to distribute free laptops for students; a move they claim will give a boost to the tech sector.
A Congress worker, who has campaigned among IT workers, says the IT electorate is just not big enough for a party to address in a manifesto. “Most of them don’t even vote,” he says.
Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson S. Prakash says that the concerns of the IT sector are generally addressed from the standpoint of infrastructure and safety. “As far as labour issues they face go, most of it is internal and any intervention by the government is seen as retrograde by the industry. So, we have focussed on other things; for instance, we have promised to develop 30 tourist sites around the city to improve the quality of their weekends,” he said.
Another BJP member, also an IT worker, says that the generalisation that IT workers don’t vote is unfair because many do. “But the discourse is not on the issues that affect them. It’s more about the ideology, or for some it is about infrastructure. Work issues and problems are not mixed with politics,” he says.
Ironically, the IT industry and its lobbies have always exercised considerable influence over governance in the city.
For instance, the most prominent faces or poster boys/girls for Bangalore, which has revelled in its identity as the IT capital of the country, have been from the sector. Critics of Bangalore’s uneven development or growth story have often pointed out that infrastructure growth has all too often been focussed on areas or transit routes that lead to and from these IT hubs.
Despite this, there is little focus or even awareness on the issues that IT workers, subjected to arbitrary HR policies in the absence of government intervention, among politicians, says Suresh Kodoor, member of the IT/ITeS Employees Centre (ITEC), a welfare group for workers in the tech sector.
“Because we are paid better than those in other sectors, it is assumed that there is no need for government intervention or legal measures,” he said. “Yes, the IT community, like the general middleclass, is reluctant to participate in the political process. But the focus must shift from just wooing the industry to making sure that the workers are protected.”
Mr. Kodoor says that IT companies have been dragging their feet over complying with the government directive to submit Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act, a key labour legislation from which the IT industry in Karnataka has been exempt for 12 years.