In the modern day workplace, it is possible to sit inside a cubicle in Chennai and work for a client in San Francisco or Seattle. The IT sector, which has been at the forefront of this globalisation of labour, has drastically altered the nature of the debate about employee rights and contractual obligations.
Pointing out that most fresh recruits into the sector are young graduates who have no idea about their rights, Karthik Shekhar, General Secretary, Union for IT & ITES employees (UNITES), says: “Managers and team leaders are just glorified terms. They manage processes or resources, not people.”
He says that since IT employees are not covered by the Industrial Disputes Act, some kind of collective representation is required to press for their rights.
“Long and erratic work hours, not being paid what they are promised when they are on a foreign assignment and burnout issues are all legitimate concerns that have to be raised. But companies have managed to convince employees that unions are for blue collared employees,” Mr. Shekhar adds.
Psychiatrist Vijay Nagaswami says “The IT sector seems to have built its strategic processes around attrition. They expect the HR support to last only for a couple of years, so hiring freshers from campus recruitment on a regular basis is how they deal with the situation.”
According to him, IT sector lifestyles play havoc with family lives. Killing commutes and working as per overseas time-zones make for very poor support opportunities from families and friends.
“When weekends are used only to catch up on sleep rather than for recreational pursuits, burnouts are not far behind,” he adds.
In spite of the lack of space for collective voicing of concerns, Gayathri Jayaraman, who was in the IT sector for six years before she quit, says that since companies want to retain the best employees, grievances are addressed better than in any other sector. But the HR treats a person like a resource, she says, and not like a human being.
“Also the work becomes monotonous after a point since nothing original or creative comes out of it.”
On the existing scenario, K. Purushothaman, Regional Director, NASSCOM, says that most issues are sorted out through proactive HR policies. While handling overseas projects against tight deadlines, “companies cannot afford to lose 10 minutes or an hour on manpower issues,” he says.