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IT Workers at Deep End in Season of Layoffs Without Payoffs

Jun 02, 2017
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In this photo taken on January 10, 2017, start-up companies work out of Nasscom's Startup Warehouse facility, which incubates start-up tech companies, in Bangalore. 
In the basement of a Bangalore building, hundreds of young Indians sit in neat rows of desks typing furiously, all dreaming of becoming the new Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg. A quarter of a century after liberalisation kick-started India's economic transformation, a new generation of young people are capitalising on their parents' hard-won financial security to try their luck in the risky business of tech start-ups.
 / AFP / Manjunath KIRAN        (Photo credit should read MANJUNATH KIRAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Bengaluru: Human Resource (HR) managers of major software companies in the city seem to be promoting a dog-eat-dog world as they are asking techies to either resign or propose their colleagues’ name to be sacked in order to keep their own jobs.
The HR managers are playing musical chairs as they are being asked to cut down on headcount and are also trying to make the exits less expensive for their companies – that is, ensure pink-slips are given with minimal payoffs, claim techies.
“I got a call on the 23rd from the HR to meet them. In a video chat, the HR head from Hyderabad told me that as a senior member, he is giving me two weeks and two months’ basic salary to quit,” said one such victim who is losing his job at a top IT services company in Bengaluru.
“On 29th I got another call asking why I haven’t resigned yet. I said I won’t resign, and they said in that case, they will terminate my contract and I won’t get any job outside. On the 31st, I got another call from HR. He said they spoke to my manager, if I propose any other employee’s name as a replacement (for sacking), they will see what they can do,” he alleged.
The victim, who requested anonymity, joined three others from top IT companies to approach the Karnataka Government’s Labour Commissioner to help them out from illegal layoffs.
Techies, who have so far never thought of ‘unionizing’ themselves, are now trying to get together into forums in different cities, now that they are faced with the reality of job cuts across the sector.
This victim, for instance, has seen three others in his team already out. On the 31st, he got an automatically-generated mail that it was his last day at work – his company mail ID and other services were suspended. He did not get any mail from his HR team – only a phone call, he alleges.
His colleague, who had just last month got a promotion, was also called and told there were no ‘opportunities for his role’ in the company. No other reason was provided to him.
“This is nothing less than harassment. They have been mailing and asking me to call them back. To be on the safe side, they call me from the landline all the time. They are pushing me out and are threatening me that they can blacklist my name such that I won’t get another job anywhere else,” he said.
Many others like him are equally worried about identifying themselves with either any unions or any activism with government agencies – they are worried that once they do that, they won’t be able to find other jobs.
A coordinator for Forum of IT Employees (FITE), Rajesh said, “Every day we get at least ten calls from various companies. Most people say they have been asked to leave without any reason, and don’t receive official e-mails.
They are just summoned to the meeting rooms and asked to sign resignations. This is done because if the companies terminate them, some have a clause of ten months’ salary plus notice period salary – so they are cleverly handling it to get out of paying that much, by making people ‘quit’ on their own.”
Layoffs began first with Cognizant sending about 5,000 people home – others like Wipro and Tech Mahindra have also eased out a few hundreds.
“We want the Labour Commissioner to take this petition under the Industrial Disputes Act, so that he can ask the companies to stop the mass termination process and maintain status quo of the employment of these engineers,” Rajesh said.
The worst affected are employees who’ve joined recently (less than one year in the company) the forum’s memorandum stated, adding that even those with H1B visas have been asked to resign.
Coming just as the academic year begins, the layoffs will hit families of the techies hard as they won’t be able to meet even basic needs, the petition stated.
The government though cannot do much other than offer ‘legal advisory help’, as IT companies are exempt from labour laws.
“We met a forum of employees. They said companies are forcefully asking them to resign but nobody is coming forward and filing a complaint. They are scared and not very sure on how to go about it,” said IT Minister Priyank Kharge.
“I ask them if they took any legal help or met with a lawyer; they draw a blank. I offered them some legal help to understand their standpoint, understand government rules and regulations, and that of the Labour Department. Currently, they don’t have complete legal understanding of the issue,” Kharge said.

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