Bangalore: India’s information technology (IT) companies have turned to one of the country’s top law schools to suggest changes in the country’s 60-year-old labour rules.
The grouping, which includes Infosys Technologies Ltd, Wipro Technologies Ltd, International Business Machines Corp. (IBM) and Hewlett-Packard Co., among others, has appointed National Law School of India University, or NLS, as a consultant for the recommendations, said V. Nagaraj, professor of law and registrar at NLS. It will be up to the firms to lobby with the government to convert the suggestions into legislation, he said.
When the Industrial Disputes Act came into effect on 1 April 1947, manufacturing was the dominant activity, Nagaraj said. The existing legislation is aimed at protecting workers apart from guiding the settlement of industrial disputes.
Working conditions in IT and business process outsourcing sectors “are completely different, their problems are different, expectations are different because it is (an) internationalized industry”, Nagaraj said.
Photo: Namas Bhojani/Bloomberg
The law school project will study issues peculiar to the industry and examine whether it needs a separate Bill, such as those for journalists and plantation workers, or an amendment to the existing Industrial Disputes Act. Nagaraj, who is working on the project along with four students, plans to get the first draft ready in five months. The recommendations will be finalized in seven-eight months.
The industry has lobbied the government for the exclusion of IT/ITes (IT-enabled services) workers and high-paid employees from the definition of “workman” under the Act, said Mohandas Pai, director, human resources, at Infosys.
Other areas in which change is sought include rules that stipulate a 21-day notice period for changes in conditions of service besides unannounced multiple inspection visits by the labour department, Pai said.
These amendments are being sought to ensure the smooth functioning of IT companies, Pai said. “These industries are giving best-in-class facilities to their staff and are way above the minimum standards set in any labour legislation,” he said. While IBM declined to comment, Hewlett-Packard and Wipro Technologies did not respond to emailed queries.
The government may not agree to exclude IT workers from the definition of “workman” as the Constitution protects workers, Nagaraj said.
The industry wants the law changed on retrenchment, women working night shifts and the inclusion of the concept of working from home. The Act currently asks companies to give preference to retrenched workers when they rehire and women are allowed to work only up to 11pm, that too with special permission.
The IT industry doesn’t need to be treated separately from other sectors, said senior Delhi high court advocate K.K. Rai, who has fought labour law cases and represented workers in courts.
“The IT industry is not different from other industry,” Rai said. “Maybe they don’t want to become liable under the labour laws.”
The Industrial Disputes Act doesn’t need to differentiate between workers on the shop floor or in services, Rai said. He wasn’t aware of the specifics of the demands that the IT industry had with regard to labour law, Rai said.
“Awareness (of labour issues) came due to the recession,” Nagaraj of NLS said. “Companies apprehend that there will be disputes against them.” But Pai of Infosys said the demand for labour law amendments had no connection to the recent economic slowdown.
Phone calls and text messages to officials at the labour ministry and Nasscom were unanswered at press time.