On November 27, 2014 , the Young Tamil Nadu Movement had organized a street meeting about the Nokia plant shutdown and the affected employees near Sholinganallur Junction , Chennai. The co-ordinator of Young Tamil Nadu Movement , Comrade Senthil addressed the gathered audience about the issues and rights of an IT employee and the India’s economic policy with the background of Nokia plant shutdown in Chennai.
English transcription of Senthil’s speech :
Every now and then and everywhere, we hear the words, India is developing, developing and still developing. Back in the year of 2006 when the Nokia plant was established in Sriperumbudur (Tamil Nadu, India), much of an hype was made over the thousands of jobs that were going to get created. Yes, the thousands of jobs were actually created and many thousands got employed, but within just 8 years, in 2014, the many thousands that worked in the plant came to streets overnight. This exactly is the current situation.
Everyone who applauded when the plant came to India, went past this exit just as a one day news while 40,000 lost their jobs. These 40,000 jobs include the direct jobs provided by Nokia, jobs provided by dependent production units like Foxconn, housekeeping jobs, indirect jobs like hotels and transport jobs. All of them faced the axe and were robbed off their livelihood in broad daylight. And this is still a one day news bulletin item for those who then viewed it as a symbol of India’s development 8 years back.
Whilst a 40,000 mass landed into unemployment, our honourable Prime Minister Narendra Modi is hailed as icon of the development by the media houses. He brings the “Make in India” scheme. He recites this narrative almost everywhere, requesting all corporate please come to India and open their shops and produce everything in India. Through the “Make in India” marketing campaigning it is proclaimed that a 600 thousand crore rupee investment will be bestowed upon India. On one side our country has opened its doors as an investment hub for the corporates of nations like China, Japan, Australia to invest in India and make it their biggest profit hunting location. On the other side, 40,000 people lost their jobs, out of which 15,000 were people who were directly employed in the Nokia plant. The documentary movie(Insert Movie Name) that was screened portrays this state of affairs in the Nokia factory. Interestingly, such paradoxical happenings are seldom newsworthy for the Indian media houses.
Nokia, like how they closed down the production unit in India now, has a history of practicing the very same technique in other countries too. In 2008 they shutdown their production units in Germany resulting in thousands of job losses and then ventured to another country, Romania. They went on running their sweat shops in Romania till 2011, and then this country too faced a complete shutdown and severe job losses. As a result of closure in Romania, Nokia announced that 50% of their production will be moved in to Tamil Nadu, India inline to its devised strategy of shifting base to Asia. Now in 2014 it is India’s turn, the plant in Tamil Nadu is closed, Microsoft (who acquired Nokia) has decided to relocate to Vietnam. Of course the engine that runs this country hopping mechanism is nothing but its greed for profit and more profit.
Nokia’s disappearance from Germany was driven by the cheap labour and less production cost location available in Romania. When they found much cheaper labour and lesser production cost in Tamil Nadu, India, they shored here. Then when they found yet another country which would give them a great deal of less cost than Tamil Nadu, they are switching over to Vietnam now. Profit, profit and much more profit. While, this is just another relocation encounter for Nokia or Microsoft, it is a matter of livelihood for 40,000 people of our country. Now all who lost their jobs are stranded with very weak hopes of carrying out their lives.
The labour laws which are supposed to protect us from all these atrocities, are being watered-down day by day, defeating the very purpose of having such laws in place. We are prohibited to form labour unions of any sorts and even if we form one, we have no means to protest against the corporate giants. They are not bound by any laws and can shutdown their units or branches without getting concurrence from the governments of the country in which they operate. They can run their units with just contractors or apprentices and hardly any permanent employees. They need not provide permanent employment to these contractors even after the stipulated period of time as governed by the labour laws. All these are a result of the dilutions that happened and are still happening to the labour laws. Yet another major amendment of weakening the labour law, by increasing the contractual period of contract employees is expected to be passed in the winter sessions of the parliament. These pro-industry, anti-labour reforms are said to be made for attracting a 600 thousand crore rupee foreign investment.
What is in for us in this so called ‘development’? Our government provided them the lands, water and electricity for free. The reason behind giving all these massive freebies and subsidies was to attract the investors to open their branches here, which successively would create many employment opportunities. Nokia’s investment entirely was only 650 crore rupees, but the subsidies provided by the Tamil Nadu government alone would exceed 1,100 crore rupees. They were running their production unit for last 8 years with all these benefits at their disposal. They produced cell phones here, they sold them to us, they made monumental profits, finally they shutdown and flew away with all the money.
All that we comprehend from this so called ‘development’ is, when huge balls of rice is fed to temple elephants, a few of little bits of the food would spill out and that would be fed by a hundred ants. The elephants would always be bountifully fed, and the ants would be trampled any time. This is what they call it ‘development’.
Thousands of crore rupees will be given as concessions or freebies to the corporates and they would create a few thousand jobs for a short period of time until they deplete all our resources. This is what is called development. They fed on our wealth, land, water, electricity in the name of concessions and freebies. Our nuclear plants, thermal power plants were erected to provide dedicated electricity to the corporates. Even at the time power crunch the needs of its citizens or the small scale local industries were secondary to the government. Our electricity consumption is growing day after day and people are facing the heat of power crisis, just because of the 24×7 uninterrupted free electricity supply to the Special Economic Zones (SEZ).
Be it the local formers who feed the people or be it the local small scale industries in Coimbatore, the government cuts back on their fair share of electricity just to provide uninterrupted free electricity to the big corporates like Nokia. They not only exploited all these benefits and subsidiaries but also managed to evade a whopping amount of tax of over 24,000 crore rupees, and on one fine day they shifted their production unit to another country. Mr. Bill Gates, the founder-chairman of the Microsoft, the company that acquired Nokia has told our honorable Prime Minister Narendra Modi that they will help us build toilets in India. This is called development.
We are all working in the Information Technology (IT) industry, and now we are rushing home after work hours. The people who stand here or the people who are passing us might think why we are speaking unnecssary things over the loud speaker at this pleasant evening time and causing disturbance. In the past two hours, at least a hundred people who crossed us might have felt we disturbed their telephone conversation as they head to their homes. If someone somewhere, shutdown a company, why am I to bother? We all worry so much when Europe goes down or when Spain down or when Greece down, because we may not get enough projects. We think more about the economic recession in western countries like Europe or the USA and try to accustom to it.
We like it or not, the world has shrunk so much in this 21st century. If somewhere there is a war going between two entities, we are impacted. For example, if a war happens between two African countries, we will not be able to get the raw materials from there or export our products to them and we lose that market. Thus the companies that deal with these countries are directly impacted. So essentially in this shrunk world, if something, somewhere happens, we are impacted. After graduating, we work in any of the IT companies like Wipro, Infosys, HCL, TCS, Cognizant or the likes.
We work for the projects outsourced from the USA, Canada or Europe. Nevertheless, we must understand that we are part of this society, this very society that helped us grow to this position. We like it or not, we are a part and parcel of this society. There is someone who delivers us drinking water container, someone who helps us travel in a share-auto, someone who drives the public transport or company transport for us to travel safely, someone who works in the restaurant and takes care of the food we eat. Take a look at our education, someone taught us how to read and write, later in college life, someone lectured for us and we graduated. So we need to understand that we are neither an alien who out of the sky nor a person born and brought up in a western country. We belong to this place and we have grown up by the collective effort of everyone in this society. So it is our duty to pay heed to the 40,000 job losses that happened in Sriperumbudur; we should show more regards to this than for a hurricane in the USA or the recession in Europe. That essentially is the reason, why we chose Sholinganallur junction, where most of the IT corporates operate for conducting this meeting.
The educational qualification of the people who worked in Nokia plant since 2008 was only upto 12th standard. They were trained only to assemble cell phones and have been doing just this for the past 8 years. Then when they were laid-off suddenly, they had to look for another similar job in cell phone assembling units. Given their education they cannot manage to get into any other jobs.
Now, if we take our story, not everyone in the IT industry came from B. Tech. IT engineering, computer science or MCA. There are many of us who came from other engineering streams like Electrical, Electronics, Mechanical, and Civil. Soon after we came out of our college, most of us started working in mainframe technologies or programming languages like C, C++, and Java or in testing. Say someone who studied Electrical engineering and started working in mainframe for the past 5 year; suddenly he/she received a pink slip; he/she will have to look for a job only in mainframe; he/she cannot work in DC motor or generator. He/she would have lost the ability to work on what was taught in their college degree.
A person who lost his job in Nokia can work only in another similar cell phone assembling unit of another company; likewise if someone loses his job in the IT industry, he can work only in that specific technology and in that specific domain which he was working in the past years; he cannot work on the streams that he underwent his graduation.
Nokia seemed like a heaven for these employees until they lost their jobs. Their companies would send them buses and cabs for their commute. Similarly we have air conditioned company bus to commute and we work in an air conditioned office. If we compare this with other people in our society, we are enjoying a much better life than most others. The Nokia employees too had a relatively better life for past 8 years. Like how Nokia people were sent out with forceful resignation today, we also would be shown the door some day. You would have heard from your friends or quite likely seen that many people were sent out from TCS just for the reason of being on bench (not allocated to any project). Some of your friends who have more than 10 years of experience might have been in bench for a couple of months waiting for suitable projects and eventually the human resource (HR) manager would ask him to send a resignation letter. And this would have cleverly been made look as if he left the job on his own. Such stories would have happened to your friends, or friend’s friends, or for someone else. Many a times news items that like people were laid-off in Bally Technologies, Oracle plans for mass layoff, IBM may layoff some people catch our eyes.
We are bound to similar occupational threats like that of Nokia employees. At least in case of Nokia, a lot of political parties took the stage for them. They demanded not to shutdown and to provide jobs to the Nokia employees. But when 100 people were laid-off from Bally Technologies, no one spoke about it and not any statements were issued by any political parties. It already happened, will continue to happen but is still kept under the wraps. This too shall pass. Then again there could be a mass layoff in Oracle soon. That too shall pass. At last no one will speak for us.
The reason behind how Nokia employees managed to create an agitation was because they had a union. They protested against the layoff as a union and let the world hear their problem. They shouted aloud on their issue so the rest of the world spoke for them. That’s how we too got to know about their issues. They have also produced a documentary movie to make their campaign strong.
We do not have a labour union in the IT industry. If we encounter problems like mass layoffs, we do not know how to deal with it. We have weakly perceived the word Union. We never think ourselves as a labour. This is primarily because when you go to TCS they call you a TCS associate, in Infosys they call you a Infoscion. We never realize that we are still a labour.
I went to Paris for Axa Insurance migration project. When I was working there, a French labour department officer inquired me. He asked me if my monthly allowance paid in cash or deposited in bank account,and I told that they pay in cash. As per France law, if anyone works in their country, the salary or allowance cannot be paid in cash. If someone is working for long term i.e., more than 6 months, the salary must be deposited in to a bank account. At the end, the French labour department officer told me that he was not questioning me to screw me but to realize that my company was not paying me properly. Later, as soon as they found that TCS was doing fraudulent activities by not paying the employees properly, we were all packed to India within 2 days. That is exactly what happened.
What we need to derive from that incident is that in Paris an officer from the labour department inquired me at my workplace but here in India we have absolutely no relationship with the labour department. Have we ever thought that we too are labours? Who are labours? Any person who puts in physical and mental effort for creation of goods and services and gets a salary/wage for this work is called a labourer. You get a 20,000 salary or a 40,000 salary nothing matters, if you sell your hard work and get paid for that then you are a labour.
When my friend went to Belgium for an onsite assignment, a localite distributed a pamphlet to him. The content of the pamphlet read on how IT people of their country lost their jobs since we Indians go to work in their country. When we ask a European IT professional this question ‘who are you’ he would say he is an IT professional and when we further ask him which category he belongs to, you will definitely get an answer from him that he is a labour. Everyone except a manager would call themselves a labour.
But the problem here in our country is, no one realizes that they are labours. That is our situation in this industry. We are told you are an employee, associate but never say you are a labour. In reality, you are a labour like a auto driver, lorry driver, bus driver or like anyone who sells their hard work for money. This is the first and foremost thing is that we do not acknowledge ourselves as labours. Except India, in rest of the world, in Europe or the USA, anyone who works in the IT industry realize that they are labours. We say the world is a global village. We work in UK timings, US timings but only in India never understand that we too are labours like our counterparts of other countries do.
“No, you are not a labour. You are different from the others.” this thought is drilled down deep into us by the management. When we freshly enter into a corporate right in the induction program it is enforced that we are different/special than the other people in this society. What we need to realize is that, we too are one among the labours, irrespective of the salary package, irrespective of the nature of our jobs from which we draw this salary. But currently we are a section of people who don’t realize this.
During our childhood, we have learnt many lessons in our moral class like “Many hands make work light”, “United we stand, divided we fall”. We were taught many couplets of Mahakavi Bharatiyar which embrace the unity. We have sung these in stages, have received prizes by delivering speeches, and have written essays in exams based on the unity that was taught to us. We would have also studied or heard a lot stories reinforcing unity as an important ethical value. Here, I wish to quote a few of them.
A hunter sets a trap and a set of birds were caught in the net. Each bird tried to escape individually, but couldn’t fly. Later when all of the birds tried together, they managed to fly away along with the net and escaped finally.
There were four cows that would always graze together. A lion who wanted to hunt them down, couldn’t do it because the four were always together. Hence it strategically singled out each of them and then hunted them individually.
Right from our childhood we have grown up hearing such stories. While in school, we would always hang around with a gang of friends. In college too, we would bond with our set of friends with a great sense of belonging in our groups. But, as soon as we entered IT industry, we all became individuals. We always think ourselves as an individual in all circumstances, be it performance appraisal or career growth or onsite opportunity. Our group mindsets suddenly transformed into individual mindsets. We have to face all our problems separately. For everything we need to depend on ourselves. Ten people cannot group together to talk. Someone would have been fired. Even if we work as a team, when it comes to performance evaluation, they look at you as an individual. We live as an individual.
We think we possess everything we need. We have credit cards and debit cards. We have health insurance provided by our companies. We have enough money, no regrets. At a very early age in life we bought our own house through home loans. We ourselves a so privileged. We commute in the company’s bus or cab. We think we are safe while travelling between office and home, we do not have any troubles.
However the reality is much different. A TCS employee Uma Maheswari was murdered inside the Siruseri IT Park. Do you remember that incident? It happened in February 2014. Her home was in Medavakkam. As soon as she came out of the office building she got killed mysteriously. The police took the case only after couple of days and it was handled in a very lethargic manner and her body was found only after five days, shockingly inside the IT park itself. Had this incident happened in a college, even for one single day if a friend was missing, all girls would have alerted everyone and the matter would have attracted a much quicker action.
Another IT employee who worked in Siruseri was killed a month ago on his way to home. This man was from Andhra Pradesh and was living in Semmancheri. Investigation report claim that he was threatened and killed by someone from his neighbourhood. This is also one example to exemplify the safety of IT employees during their travel to home in the late hours. Atleast, when Uma Maheshwari got killed, around thousand people gathered to mourn and protest for her. But when in case of the guy from Andhra Pradesh, no one cared or dared to speak about it. Have we ever realized that If we don’t speak for us, no one else will speak for us?
And now coming to the question of job security. Do we have any job security within our industry? Are we sure about our job guarantee 3 years from now in the same company or at least somewhere else? Someone standing here or someone waiting in the signal or someone who pass by, does anyone of you have that guarantee? We get constantly stirred by questions like Would there be any recession or not? People who worked in banking domain would very well know about the Europe recession that happened 2 years ago. We read news in Economic Times that Greece will go bankrupt and later it was announced that a bailout happened. Again there was a news that France will go bankrupt and finally here too a bailout happened. Later with Spain too was on the verge. There was a lot of such news revolving around.
Will there be an economic recession again? If so, will there be any layoffs? On What criteria will the layoffs happen? Employees who recently joined or the ones working in the company for over 10 years, or the one who gets more salary and or the one who incurs more cost to the company? We have so many such apprehensions in mind. Is there any guarantee that we will have a job after 3 years or rather tomorrow? The answer is a firm ‘No’. In such circumstances, we think we can manage all these issues as an individual, and fend for ourselves.
So we neither have safety outside the company nor inside the company. Have our HR managers ever said that in one fine day they would probably let you go? Does anyone conduct any training program on how to manage yourself after layoff? Has anyone given you that counselling? Nothing of such sorts happened. They silently hand over a resignation letter and ask you to go. ID Card that was hanging around your neck is snatched and your chapter is finished. After that moment, how are you going to manage yourself? Many people hardly knew to manage this and got into endless depression. In year 2000, when a lot of people were laid-off, we could hear from the news that many people committed suicide. We are such a weak section in this society.
None of the companies provide training or counselling on how to manage after layoffs. Did any of your HR talk about it? No. We cannot blame them as they are not paid for that. Their job is to get the work done nicely from you while you are in the company. They seldom care about how you manage when thrown to the streets. It is after all not the job of a man power allocation team.
Take a look at the people around you. You father might have been a government employee, didn’t they have a union? When you travel in an auto, ask the auto drivers, they too have a union. Hairdressers have a union. Merchants have a union. Housekeepers have a union. Farmers have a union. Farming labours have a union. Even the corporate owners have a union (FICCI). Every section of the society has a union. There is no working sector without a union except for us. Only the Police department cannot have a union and IT people can but still do not have a union. Except these two sections of the society, 95% of the people have union. They know to safeguard themselves by being as a group. But we think that we are exclusive of them. Not our fault, but we are taught to think ourselves as a special section of this society.
In no way, we are different. We have to eat like others. We have family like others. Like all others, we have a life to lead, we need a job, and we have to work hard to survive like others. In no special way, we are different. But still we think we are different.
We need to realize where we are, by looking at the Nokia episode. We need not wait for all practical experiences to happen in our life in order to learn the lessons. We can learn our lessons by looking at the thousands of incidents happening around us. A person that drives without a helmet is well aware that it has fatal consequence, but still continues to do the same thinking it would never happen to him. A person that smokes is definitely aware that it causes cancer but still continues with it thinking it would never happen to him. This exactly is our mindset, we think that layoffs will happen to some XYZ but never to us.
Many hundred thousand people work in this industry. In Chennai alone many hundred thousand people work in areas like old Mamallapuram (OMR) stretch, Ambattur and Mahindra City. Each and every passing day at least a few people are being laid-off. Still we firmly believe that such layoffs can happen to some unknown man, and not to ourselves. But there is barely no truth in that. Hence, if we need to safeguard ourselves, we need to realize that we are labours. We also need to realize that we are just another labour selling our hard work to get the salary like all others. We did not enter into to IT industry directly from heaven and our workplaces will no longer continue to be a paradise. We need to think on how to safeguard ourselves by organizing into ourselves into groups.
Let us start from our cubicles and then to our projects, then to our project accounts, then to our buildings, and then let it propagate to this entire OMR stretch. Let us contemplate on how to gather together to form an employee union to safeguard ourselves. It is an extremely important that this thought should run in our minds when we think about our future in this industry. That would be the only possible way to protect ourselves. By protecting ourselves in a unified manner, we can benefit our society as well. So, let us think act now.
Speech was transcripted and translated by Marathamizhan and Saraswathi.
Tamil version : http://www.visai.in/2014/12/29/nokia-labours-and-it-labours/