“It took us almost three years to get a meeting with NASSCOM”

An interview with Karthik Shekhar, the General Secretary of UNITES Professionals, a union for IT and ITES employees.

UNITES Professionals is perhaps the first and only registered union for employees in the IT (Information Technology) and ITES (Information Technology Enabled Services or Business Process Outsourcing) industry in India. The organization is working on better work environment and setting standards in the industry

Karthik Shekhar

Karthik Shekhar (L). Courtesy: Karthik Shekhar.

With its headquarters in Bangalore, UNITES Professionals has offices in New Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram and Kolkata. Pushpa Achanta interviewed Karthik Shekhar, the General Secretary of UNITES Professionals over email.

Tell us more about UNITES?

UNITES Professionals strives to create a distinct and cogent link between employers and employees at all levels. We want to make work places friendlier for employees and are working towards a reasonable standard for IT and ITES sector where employer and employees are in partnership mode.

Unites is affiliated to UNI Global Union, which is a global union for skills and services with fifteen million members in nine hundred unions across the globe.

When, where and how did UNITES Professionals start? And how and where did you get involved with it?

It did not happen overnight. We started as CBPOP (Center for Business Process Outsourcing Professionals) as there were many challenges in 2004 with huge recruitments and the issues of retrenchment based on employee performance, quality. Further, there were problems like daunting targets but incentives being given to only a few workers.

By September 2005, a few of the active members of CBPOP decided a professional body was not enough. To get a legal standing, we formed a union of IT and ITES professionals. This was the beginning of UNITES Professionals and from there we have grown to twenty two thousand members in the last four years.

What is the IT/ITeS industry’s response?

We have had a strong opposition to the extent that industry captains have declared we are not to be interacted with and it took us almost three years to get a meeting with NASSCOM. We are ensuring that our best efforts are focused on organising employees and that their voices are taken seriously . We have been successful at it and during last year’s recession we were able to get the IT/ITES sector included in Prime Minister’s hundred day programme (The central government’s plan to revive the economy in 2009).

Can you please elaborate when and how you achieved this and what the benefits have been?

UNITES Professionals spearheaded the Stop the Pink Slip campaign  during the global economic downturn when laying off employees was common in the Indian IT industry.

This on-line petition and signed cards were sent to NASSCOM chief who did not respond. Once the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) government was re-elected, we sent the signed petition to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) in June 2009. The PMO accepted this and ensured the IT industry got support and our request on behalf of employees was conveyed to employers.

Which are the target communities/industries and how does UNITES Professionals approach, educate and support them? Is it focussed on the ITeS (BPO) workers? Does it include others in the industry like janitors, security guards and so on?

UNITES Professionals is focused only on IT and ITES employees and this is as per the law. We extend our solidarity to other unorganised sectors by participating in their meetings.


How do people approach UNITES Professionals for membership?

To become a UNITES Professionals member, visit the website.  We want people who can take part in this movement by becoming members and to ensure that they understand the rights that they have at workplace.

Are there any regular activities, meetings or periodic events (like workshops, conferences) and campaigns?

UNITES Professionals organises various activities based on the availability of time. We conduct New Generation Network (NgN) meetings in the centres, we have a group of over twenty five members. These are half day sessions where we discuss work-life balance, rights at work and any problem/challenges that members face.

Know your Rights Programme is an ongoing effort. Through its newsletter published every two months, UNITES Professionals educates its members about their rights and entitlements. See the recent edition here

Decisions for Life (DFL) : This is a project dedicated to empowering and enlightening adolescent female workers and job seekers in eight major occupational groups. It focuses on fourteen developing countries with UNITES Professionals coordinating it in India. UNITES Pro has hosted DFL events on National Girl Child Day (January 24th), International Students’ Day (November-17th), International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (November-25th), International Human Rights Day (December-10th), International Human Solidarity Day (December-20th)

UNITES Professionals also commemorates World Decent Work Day (October 7th), May Day (International Workers’ Day) and International Women’s Day. It has also initiated activities to spread awareness on Climate Change.

Does UNITES Professionals organise any training/awareness/counselling programmes for new entrants or for adversely affected employees in the ITeS industry?

Yes we do, but we have limited resources. We take the help of free legal services provided by Human Rights Law Network (HRLN) and other law networks. We do not have any facility as of now for medical assistance.

Does UNITES Professionals have full time/part time staff?

We have three full time organisers. One of them is a postgraduate in Social Work while the other two are from IT/ITES background. All most all of the work is done by volunteers only and they are from the IT/ITES industry. They organise events and on-line/off-line campaigns

How does UNITES Professionals support itself financially and otherwise?

It is from membership contribution.

Contact information

Karthik Shekhar – General Secretary

UNITES Professionals Professionals India
#6/2, 1st Main, Next to Kodava Samaj, Vasanthnagar
Phone: + 91-80-2235-5959, 4123-5499
Email: unitesprofessionals@gmail.com

Timings: Monday to Friday, 9.00 am to 6.00 pm

Can you please share details (like when, where and how) of some cases where UNITES Professionals has intervened successfully.

In March 2010, UNITES Professionals and associated organisations/individuals had a huge campaign highlighting the exploitation of Indian employees in Denmark by IT services major CSC  and the overall dissatisfaction with the company’s policies. This resulted in CSC appointing a new president and managing director for its India operations in April 2010.
Earlier success stories and testimonials are here.

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