IT sector

From war protestors to labour activism: India’s first IT workers union is being formed in Tamil Nadu

As the sector faces massive lay-offs, the first independent employees' union is in the process of getting itself registered.

In 2008, as Tamil Nadu erupted in angry protests against the killings of Sri Lankan Tamils during that country’s civil war, a group of young software professionals in Chennai’s Tidel Park banded together to form a human chain. “Stop the War, Save Tamils” was their demand – a slogan that featured on posters, T-shirts and Orkut posts.

Nine years later, their agitation has led to the formation of India’s first independent union for information technology employees. Amid reports of large-scale layoffs by several Indian software firms companies, the Forum for Information Technology Employees, which evolved from the campaign to protect Tamils in Sri Lanka, is in the process of getting itself registered formally as a union for technology employees in India. It will be the first independent association of its kind in the country.

Previous attempts to organise the estimated 2.8 million employees of the country’s information technology sector have failed to make much headway. “Normally, the middle class has an aversion to political activity,” said J Jayaprakash, a member of the forum.

But in recent months, insecurity has been running high among India’s information technology employees. Approximately 4.5% of employees are expected to lose their jobs over the next few months, reported Mint, attribution the turbulence to the companies’ “under-preparedness in adapting to newer technologies and dealing with the fallout from US President Donald Trump’s protectionist policies”. It added that at least 56,0000 employees of top software companies such as Infosys, Wipro and Cognizant are expected to lose their jobs over the next year.

This uncertainty has made employees realise the need for collective action. Said Jayaprakash: “Since we ourselves are IT employees who have started this, people trust us to take up their issues. It is a homegrown solution to their problems.”

Hard times

Jayaprakash said professionals who joined the industry around 2005 and have 10 years to 20 years of work experience will be hit the hardest by the turbulence. In their place, younger employees on lower salaries are expected to be hired.

“The companies call this ‘trimming the extra fat’,” he said. “But they do not realise that each and every employee has a family to support.”

After starting off as a protest lobby to bring attention to the state of Tamils in Sri Lanka, the group went on to become the Young Tamil Nadu Movement, highlighting problems such as caste oppression, minority rights and gender inequality in the workplace, among others. Since most of the members were technology professionals, they decided to form a support group for their coworkers, listening to their grievances and finding ways to tackle them. Today, the Forum for Information Technology Employees has over 1,000 online members and around 100 active members. It has opened chapters in eight other cities including Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Mumbai and Delhi.

The leaders include Vasumathi, who once worked for Tata Consultancy Services. “I am not a victim of lay-offs or discriminatory practices,” said Vasumathi,who is the group’s vice-president. “But when I saw how people were suffering from job losses, I decided to pitch in to help.”

The group has already fought several cases on behalf of employees who were indiscriminately fired. In one instance, its efforts resulted in Tata Consultancy Services reinstating a pregnant woman employee who had been dismissed despite a good performance record.

Top technology firms are expected to lay off 56,0000 employees over the next year, say media reports. Photo credit: Vivek Prakash/Reuters.
Top technology firms are expected to lay off 56,0000 employees over the next year, say media reports. Photo credit: Vivek Prakash/Reuters.

Long road for unions

Another such group working for software professionals in Chennai is the information technology wing of the New Democratic Labour Front, a labour union that is active across Tamil Nadu and Puducherry. The wing – which came up at around the same time as the Forum for Information Technology Employees – was instrumental in getting the state government to clarify in June last year that information technology employees have the right to form labour unions under the Industrial Disputes Act.

“In Tamil Nadu, we have a tradition of standing up to oppression right from the Dravidian movement,” said Kumar, a member of the New Democratic Labour Front. According to him, this is because the state has a high percentage of reservation in education for members of backward classes and many of them have gone on to become a part of the information technology industry. “Some do get corrupted by their peers,” Kumar said. “But most stay true to their humble backgrounds. Many of their parents still work as farmers in villages across Tamil Nadu. These people have an innate sense of justice and not entitlement.”

But getting the workforce together to protest against unfair company practices has not been easy. Since the industry’s growth in the 1990s and subsequent boom in the early 2000s, resistance among workers to unfair practices such as forced resignations, low pay, indiscriminate firing and wage discrimination has been low. The fear of being blacklisted by companies for voicing their problems is always at the back of their minds, according to Vasumathi of the Forum for Information Technology Employees. “Even if the employee applies for a job elsewhere, they are worried that a background check would show them as a trouble-maker,” said Vasumathi.

In Mumbai, labour lawyer Vinodh Shetty attempted to form a union for business process outsourcing workers, but faced several challenges in getting people on a common platform. The employees often did not have the time or inclination for such group activity.

“But this does not mean it cannot be done,” said Shetty. “All it needs is a core group that is knowledgeable and enlightened, who give up their partisan demands to voice more general demands. If it is an industry-wide demand, instead of that of one section of the company, it will work.”

An executive of NASSCOM said that the software industry lobby group “had no say in the matter”. This person said: “Unions can be formed by employees. It is up to the state government, employees and companies.”

Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

The next Industrial Revolution is here – driven by the digitalization of manufacturing processes

Technologies such as Industry 4.0, IoT, robotics and Big Data analytics are transforming the manufacturing industry in a big way.

The manufacturing industry across the world is seeing major changes, driven by globalization and increasing consumer demand. As per a report by the World Economic Forum and Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Ltd on the future of manufacturing, the ability to innovate at a quicker pace will be the major differentiating factor in the success of companies and countries.

This is substantiated by a PWC research which shows that across industries, the most innovative companies in the manufacturing sector grew 38% (2013 - 2016), about 11% year on year, while the least innovative manufacturers posted only a 10% growth over the same period.

Along with innovation in products, the transformation of manufacturing processes will also be essential for companies to remain competitive and maintain their profitability. This is where digital technologies can act as a potential game changer.

The digitalization of the manufacturing industry involves the integration of digital technologies in manufacturing processes across the value chain. Also referred to as Industry 4.0, digitalization is poised to reshape all aspects of the manufacturing industry and is being hailed as the next Industrial Revolution. Integral to Industry 4.0 is the ‘smart factory’, where devices are inter-connected, and processes are streamlined, thus ensuring greater productivity across the value chain, from design and development, to engineering and manufacturing and finally to service and logistics.

Internet of Things (IoT), robotics, artificial intelligence and Big Data analytics are some of the key technologies powering Industry 4.0. According to a report, Industry 4.0 will prompt manufacturers globally to invest $267 billion in technologies like IoT by 2020. Investments in digitalization can lead to excellent returns. Companies that have implemented digitalization solutions have almost halved their manufacturing cycle time through more efficient use of their production lines. With a single line now able to produce more than double the number of product variants as three lines in the conventional model, end to end digitalization has led to an almost 20% jump in productivity.

Digitalization and the Indian manufacturing industry

The Make in India program aims to increase the contribution of the manufacturing industry to the country’s GDP from 16% to 25% by 2022. India’s manufacturing sector could also potentially touch $1 trillion by 2025. However, to achieve these goals and for the industry to reach its potential, it must overcome the several internal and external obstacles that impede its growth. These include competition from other Asian countries, infrastructural deficiencies and lack of skilled manpower.

There is a common sentiment across big manufacturers that India lacks the eco-system for making sophisticated components. According to FICCI’s report on the readiness of Indian manufacturing to adopt advanced manufacturing trends, only 10% of companies have adopted new technologies for manufacturing, while 80% plan to adopt the same by 2020. This indicates a significant gap between the potential and the reality of India’s manufacturing industry.

The ‘Make in India’ vision of positioning India as a global manufacturing hub requires the industry to adopt innovative technologies. Digitalization can give the Indian industry an impetus to deliver products and services that match global standards, thereby getting access to global markets.

The policy, thus far, has received a favourable response as global tech giants have either set up or are in the process of setting up hi-tech manufacturing plants in India. Siemens, for instance, is helping companies in India gain a competitive advantage by integrating industry-specific software applications that optimise performance across the entire value chain.

The Digital Enterprise is Siemens’ solution portfolio for the digitalization of industries. It comprises of powerful software and future-proof automation solutions for industries and companies of all sizes. For the discrete industries, the Digital Enterprise Suite offers software and hardware solutions to seamlessly integrate and digitalize their entire value chain – including suppliers – from product design to service, all based on one data model. The result of this is a perfect digital copy of the value chain: the digital twin. This enables companies to perform simulation, testing, and optimization in a completely virtual environment.

The process industries benefit from Integrated Engineering to Integrated Operations by utilizing a continuous data model of the entire lifecycle of a plant that helps to increase flexibility and efficiency. Both offerings can be easily customized to meet the individual requirements of each sector and company, like specific simulation software for machines or entire plants.

Siemens has identified projects across industries and plans to upgrade these industries by connecting hardware, software and data. This seamless integration of state-of-the-art digital technologies to provide sustainable growth that benefits everyone is what Siemens calls ‘Ingenuity for Life’.

Case studies for technology-led changes

An example of the implementation of digitalization solutions from Siemens can be seen in the case of pharma major Cipla Ltd’s Kurkumbh factory.

Cipla needed a robust and flexible distributed control system to dispense and manage solvents for the manufacture of its APIs (active pharmaceutical ingredients used in many medicines). As part of the project, Siemens partnered with Cipla to install the DCS-SIMATIC PCS 7 control system and migrate from batch manufacturing to continuous manufacturing. By establishing the first ever flow Chemistry based API production system in India, Siemens has helped Cipla in significantly lowering floor space, time, wastage, energy and utility costs. This has also improved safety and product quality.

In yet another example, technology provided by Siemens helped a cement plant maximise its production capacity. Wonder Cement, a greenfield project set up by RK Marbles in Rajasthan, needed an automated system to improve productivity. Siemens’ solution called CEMAT used actual plant data to make precise predictions for quality parameters which were previously manually entered by operators. As a result, production efficiency was increased and operators were also freed up to work on other critical tasks. Additionally, emissions and energy consumption were lowered – a significant achievement for a typically energy intensive cement plant.

In the case of automobile major, Mahindra & Mahindra, Siemens’ involvement involved digitalizing the whole product development system. Siemens has partnered with the manufacturer to provide a holistic solution across the entire value chain, from design and planning to engineering and execution. This includes design and software solutions for Product Lifecycle Management, Siemens Technology for Powertrain (STP) and Integrated Automation. For Powertrain, the solutions include SINUMERIK, SINAMICS, SIMOTICS and SIMATIC controls and drives, besides CNC and PLC-controlled machines linked via the Profinet interface.

The above solutions helped the company puts its entire product lifecycle on a digital platform. This has led to multi-fold benefits – better time optimization, higher productivity, improved vehicle performance and quicker response to market requirements.

Siemens is using its global expertise to guide Indian industries through their digital transformation. With the right technologies in place, India can see a significant improvement in design and engineering, cutting product development time by as much as 30%. Besides, digital technologies driven by ‘Ingenuity for Life’ can help Indian manufacturers achieve energy efficiency and ensure variety and flexibility in their product offerings while maintaining quality.

Play

The above examples of successful implementation of digitalization are just some of the examples of ‘Ingenuity for Life’ in action. To learn more about Siemens’ push to digitalize India’s manufacturing sector, see here.

This article was produced on behalf of Siemens by the Scroll.in marketing team and not by the Scroll.in editorial staff.