IT sector employees can form trade union: TN govt

Information technology professionals, so far kept out of trade unionism, can now organise themselves with the Tamil Nadu government clarifying that software company employees too have the rights to form unions.

Replying to a petition, a top official of the state labour department recently stated that IT sector employees too have the right to form trade unions, a situation that could change the equations for IT companies that have so far kept its 4.5 lakh employees out of reach for trade unions.

"IT company employees also are free to form trade unions and redress their grievances through evoking the provisions of the Industrial Disputes Act 1947. Any trade union with IT employees as its members can rise industrial disputes under section 2 (k) of the act and seek remedy," state labour secretary Kumar Jayant wrote in reply to a petition filed by Puthiya Jananayaga Thozhilalar Munnani.

The IT sector said the labour secretary's statement was a retrograde gesture, while unions see it as an acknowledgment of employee rights.

Trade unions, which have been restricted to factories and that too to select industrial units and government undertakings like banks, transport services and the railways, have been trying to get a foothold in the $118-billion IT sector that employs nearly four million people.

Tech companies have so far succeeded in warding off trade unionism and trade union activists have been bemoaning lack of support from government for employee rights in IT companies.

Last month, the Madras High Court stepped in to quash the dismissal of a software engineer at HCL Technologies on the grounds of poor performance. Rejecting the company's objections, the judge said a software engineer was indeed a workman.

Trade unions have been emboldened by the court's stance and hope to build on such support with government's backing.

The Tamil Nadu government's clarification that the information technology employees in the state can form trade unions to redress their grievances by invoking the Industrial Disputes Act 1947 is a bold pro-labour step that its Communist neighbour Kerala could adopt.

The CITU in Kerala has been asking for an entry into the IT sector, but the response from successive governments and employees has been less than lukewarm. But, once allowed, it could sound the death knell for Kerala's blooming IT industry.