PUBLIC EYE ‘Lack of awareness on rights makes IT workers vulnerable’
Recruitment and employment frauds in the State’s most pampered industry, information technology and the allied BPO sector, are being reported with a discomfiting frequency. Hugely under-reported, these cases are being treated as a crime statistic, rather than an issue that plagues the large labour workforce that lives and works in the city.
In a significant decision earlier this year, the State Labour Department withdrew a 12-year-old exemption to the IT sector. This exemption from the Industrial Employment Standing Orders Act, which absolved companies in the sector from several important laws that bind regular workspaces, was revoked amid stiff resistance from the industry.
In a freewheeling chat with Deepa Kurup, Labour Commissioner S.R. Umashankar explained how this move is likely to make a difference by providing employees a “security blanket” and encourage more reporting of cases of employee-employer disputes to the Labour Department.
In recent months, several cases of employment or recruitment related fraud have been reported in the IT sector, including fly-by-night operators who collect hefty training fees or security deposits and shut shop overnight. Have these cases been brought to your notice?
Actually, these frauds fall under a few broad categories. One is the kind where people are being fooled into paying for a job that does not exist. This is criminal. The other is where people are employed for a few months, not paid and the company shuts shop. We are aware this is happening but very few come to us with complaints. Even the few who do, simply give us oral complaints. This is the biggest problem for us in the IT sector.
Why do you think they are reluctant to approach the Labour Department or to complain formally?
Fear or job insecurity: they can be removed at any time. They are afraid of spoiling their references. They tell us that putting it on record will be seen as a negative mark on their careers. This may not be true but this is what they believe.
Is there an awareness issue? How does this compare to other industries?
In other industries, say in the manufacturing sector, they readily come to us with disputes and we intervene. In the IT/ITeS sector there is an awareness problem; it appears that they don’t either know that there is a mechanism (like ours) or they don’t want to come. They sometimes go to the police.
What can the Labour Department do in such a situation to ensure that people are not being cheated or their rights violated?
Things could change. Till now in Karnataka, the Information Technology Department was being given certain blanket labour exemptions. Though the industry is misconstruing this as a move to introduce inspector raj, the fact is that removing this exemption will bring new transparency to employee-employer relations in the sector. This will happen because under the Standing Order Act every company will be forced to define the exact relationship and role (rights and duties) of the employee and the employer.
Will this help by creating awareness?
Certainly. It will create awareness, and also provide a sense of security. Once the Standing Orders are declared, it will become clear — to employees and employers — that they cannot simply fire or tarnish any record without due processes. Currently, as they are not covered by standing orders, there are no specific set of rules … employees may be at the mercy of the HR department. Now they will know that there is grievance redressal mechanism. It isn’t that they could not come to us earlier: but now they will be aware of this option and know they are protected by the law.