INDIA: Over the past few months, the tech industry has witnessed the biggest workforce layoffs in history, thrashing the IT industry and snatching jobs from many employees.
The wave of massive layoffs flinched as many tech giants and digital startups announced mass layoffs because of global headwinds and funding shortages. As a result, thousands of young Indians are suddenly staring at an uncertain future.
Tens of thousands of IT employees and aspirants are experiencing anxiety due to inflationary pressures and recessionary worries, but many of them aren’t going to stay quiet about it.
When Ravi (name changed) and a number of his coworkers learned in October that they would lose their jobs at a large Indian tech business, he immediately set up a private messaging group with them.
Soon, Ravi and his colleagues began using the group as a “safe space” to talk about labour laws and employee rights, to voice their worries, and to get guidance on how to deal with the management.
“It helped many in the team negotiate better exit policies with the company,” said Ravi.
Employees and their difficult time with mass layoffs
Particularly in the tech sector, Indian employees at private businesses have had a difficult few months. Byju’s and Unacademy, two tech firms, have made numerous layoffs; Twitter has laid off more than half of its employees in India; Facebook, the parent company of Twitter, has laid off about 13% of its 87,000-strong workforce.
The most recent round of layoffs has sparked outrage on social media, and many of those affected are turning to the web to vent their angst and form support networks, much like their counterparts in other countries.
They are tweeting about abrupt terminations, posting job requests on LinkedIn, and using messaging apps like WhatsApp and Slack to rally their colleagues, defend their rights, and inform journalists.
This is partly because the culture of shame and silence that has historically accompanied terminations in India is crumbling as mass layoffs become more common.
As per management and development industry specialist Pritha Dutt, a termination was commonly justified by “a performance issue” even a few decades ago.
“Today, layoffs and downsizing have become accepted business practices, so terminations are no longer a taboo topic,” she stated.
It is still debatable if social media is a useful tool for redress, but experts assert that it is uniting and amplifying voices, particularly now that labour unions are less powerful than they previously were.
Although millions of Indian workers are still members of unions, the movement has been losing strength for years. Their membership and power have been weakened by a number of causes, such as the expansion of the private sector workforce, recent labour changes, and an increase in contract work.
Since the company announced in October that it will “rationalise” about 2,500 employees in order to “achieve profitability,” several Byju employees have been speaking to the media – usually anonymously – about the atmosphere at work and the difficulties they face.
Angry ex-Twitter employees have used social media to express themselves. One former worker wrote, “Always a Tweep, never a Twit,” in a subtle allusion to the company’s new owner, Elon Musk’s Twitter bio. “I got fired without even a confirmation email.” “There’s always a new low,” said another.
In order to express their grievances and defend their rights, many employees are looking for alternate ways.
Thiruvananthapuram, a city in the south, saw a protest by 140 of Byju’s employees who said they were being pushed to resign. They also met with a Kerala state minister, who announced an investigation into the situation. Kerala is governed by a left-leaning coalition that supports workers’ rights.
Days later, Byju’s said that it had changed its mind about closing down operations in Thiruvananthapuram.
Suman Dasmahapatra, president of the All India IT and ITeS Employees’ Union’s Bangalore chapter, said that the organization’s membership has been steadily increasing. The All India IT and ITeS Employees’ Union is a registered trade union that has been helping hundreds of tech workers with labour disputes since 2018.
He admits that this is still a relatively small portion of all workers, but he asserts that the majority of IT industry professionals are still hesitant to join unions, either because they fear management reprisals or because they “don’t see themselves as workers.”
However, Dasmahapatra said he is convinced that unionisation would resume in India as the job market becomes more unstable due to the push and pull of global economic forces.
Workers at US multinationals like Apple, Starbucks, and Amazon have formed unions in recent years, and observers predict that calls for unionisation will grow louder and extend to more industries.