The first conference of National Confederation of UNITES will be held in Hyderabad on 30th November, 2014, at Hotel Minerva Grand, Sarojini Devi Road in Secundrabad. UNITES is the first union started for benefit of employees working in the information technology sector and is now present across six states.
Tell us about UNITES. What led you to establish this union and when it was set up?
In early 2004, UNI Apro launched an organising drive targeted at ITES Professionals such as BPO and call center professionals in India, Philippines, Sri Lanka and Malaysia. The project in India to organize these professionals into trade unions, known as the CBPOP project, was launched in July 2004 with the establishment of two service centers – one in Hyderabad and the other in Bangalore headed by JSR Prasad, an experienced unionist with the telecom sector in India for more than 25 years. The basic strategy of the project is to establish contact, convince (create awareness and appreciation of trade unionism) connect (provide network for these employees) and finally to consolidate such network of professionals into trade unions – at the enterprise, regional and national levels.
It is a focused effort (dealing with disputes and through surveys and studies) to establish contacts and convincing (solidarity support and educational and information activities) employees about the need for them to establish or join trade unions. They have expanded their activities to New Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai. So far, they have established contact with more than 2,000 employees in the various cities. Majority of them are convinced about the need to establish trade unions. This is confirmed by a survey conducted by CNBC India in December 2004, where more than 53 per cent of such employees contacted, recognized the need for trade unions to represent their interest. The CBPOP is assisting these ITES professionals in Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai, Mumbai and New Delhi to register their unions at the state and local level as is the case for those employed by HSBC. At this stage, we have firm commitment from some 1,500 professionals to form the unions at the various levels.
You are going to have a major conference in Hyderabad on Nov 29 and 30. Tell us about the theme and the issues the conference will debate and discuss.
UNITES, which is representing the professionals in the IT sector firmly believes that the IT & ITES companies, should conform to highest ethical professional standards. UNITES, as a policy, always insists that the IT professionals commit to such ethical values in their conduct.
What are the major issues on employee relations front before the IT and ITES employees?
A sustainable IT enabled services industry in India needs a different employment relations approach. The union’s vision to make it happen and these are the rights we will work towards:
- Right to work and to better qualifications for work.
- Right to organize, to bargain collectively and engage in legal concerted activity.
- Right to a redress of just grievances and to due process under the law.
- Right to enjoy decent employment, wages, and benefits including work conditions mandated by law and/or negotiated under the CBA.
- Right to secure and healthy work environment, and social protection for all; and
- Right to equal opportunity and non-discrimination at work.
On the other hand, trade unions must recognize that basic employers’ rights include the following:
- Right to freely choose the business they want to invest in, including the right to shop closures
- Right to just returns on investments
- Right to manage business freely in accordance with the exigencies of the market, including the inherent right to manage work and work processes and to discipline employees subject only to the limitations imposed by law, CBA and fair play.
In this connection, we recognized the perpetual need of the industry and enterprises to adopt appropriate competitiveness adjustment measures needed to remain viable and profitable. Such measures may include measures affecting the organization, production set-up, personnel deployment and job design among others.
We insist that consideration for competitiveness adjustment measures should be subjected to extensive discussions by both the concerned employers and unions on alternative ways of enhancing business survival and viability without resorting to job-displacing measures.
The other critical counter measures could be the development of competitiveness measures in the form of programs to support higher productivity and decent work, through the use of technology and development of the skills of workers and strengthening labor-management cooperation.
In India, UNI-APRO affiliates especially National confederation of UNITES has supported the development of the IT sector, based on equitable and sustainable paradigm alternatives that will not only advance the interests of employers but also the employees – in term of decent terms of employment and condition of work. National confederation of UNITES is endeavouring to work in close partnership with CII & NASSCOM its member companies to achieve this ideal that will benefit all parties and contribute to the development of the national economy.
What are the changes you are seeking?
The aversion and hostility to labour movement and ignoring of International Labour Standards whether in India or abroad is unlikely to be helpful in the long run. As insidious alienation of professional staff can cause all kinds of problems for companies. With economic downturn, loss of jobs within India and abroad in the IT/ITES sector it is time IT/ITES companies reviewed their labour policies and take the working professionals into confidence and allow them unionize and adopt progressive pro labour policies.
Some reforms are directed at the workers and the trade unions, not at the authors of contaractulaisation of workforce. It is perplexing to see that the so-called stabilization measures being pushed are aimed at the dismantling of the safety nets such as the ESI, Provident Fund.
On the other hand, global competition is used by the exporting countries as an argument to squeeze workers’ wages, benefits and basic rights such as freedom of association and collective bargaining.
Let me conclude by reminding all of us that the centre of production and value creation lies in the relationship of people at work. Making that relationship stable, cooperative and secure under enlightened win-win rules is a challenge that the trade unions are prepared to accept. The trade union movement, particularly the trade unions that UNI Apro represents, wants to help shape a People First industry where all enjoy a decent standard of living in a caring and sharing society.
Let us use this as an opportunity to create a truly people-centred industry. We can make this happen with the solidarity and combined efforts of all the social partners. In this regard, we would like discussion and hopefully a section in manifesto will dedicated jointly, which will look at ICT industry and the laws applicable to in the communication era.