Does the IT firm you work for make you work more than 48 hours a week, not pay you overtime and give you less than 45 leaves a year? A group of techies have now challenged these conditions, terming them a violation of Fundamental Rights Against Exploitation as guaranteed under the Constitution of India. A Public Interest Litigation filed in the Telangana High Court by Hyderabad based activist group Forum Against Corruption, along with three city-based techies hopes to tackle the “white collared slavery prevailing in the state in the name of employment.”
The Andhra Pradesh Shops and Establishments Act of 1988 – renamed as Telangana Shops and Establishments Act of 1988 – says that companies cannot make employees work for more than eight hours a day, and 48 hours a week. It also stipulates that if employees are made to work overtime – a maximum of six hours a week and 24 hours a year – they should be paid for the same. Further, employees should be given 15 days of paid leave, 12 days of casual leave, and 12 days of sick leave in a year. However, for the past 17 years, IT companies in Hyderabad have been exempt from these laws because of a Government Order (GO).
The GO was supposed to be a temporary measure brought in 2002, with the aim of turning Hyderabad into an IT hub. It exempted IT firms in Hyderabad from six sections of the law, including opening and closing hours, daily and weekly working hours, holidays and provisions to protect an employee in case of termination of service. The government order granting these exemptions had an expiry date but have since then been extended for the last 17 years, it was last extended for another two years in 2019.
The PIL in the High Court has called this exploitative, and has been filed against several IT companies – including Accenture, Cognizant and Caspex Corp – and the state’s labour department. The Telangana High Court has given the firms and the Telangana state government four weeks to respond to the petitioners.
Vijay Gopal, the president of Forum Against Corruption, says the PIL aims to make work-life balance of techies in Hyderabad easier.
For instance, Sai Prasad says he worked 10 hours a day without being paid overtime in an IT firm. And that’s not including the travel time to the office and back. "I have been in the IT sector for 10 years but never knew the rules. Previously we had a nine-hour shift, but then it was made 10 hours and there was never any overtime," says Sai.
The work timings and the company’s taxi policy impacted his personal well being, he says. "The office taxi policy is such that one has to be ready two hours before the shift begins, so if the shift starts at 10 am one has to be ready by 8 am because that's when the cab comes. And if you choose to use your own transport, the firm won't pay your transportation charges,” he alleges.
Sai says he found himself losing close to five-six hours a day just commuting. “The shift ends at 7 pm and by the time one reaches home it’s 10 pm. There is nothing called personal life. My wife too is an IT employee. I quit the job as I was putting in all these hours for peanuts.”
Speaking to TNM, one of the petitioners who works with another IT giant says his company makes employees work for over nine hours a day, and grants them just 22 days leave a year. "The nine hours do not include lunch breaks," he says, wishing to remain unnamed. “The problem is that most IT employees are not aware of their own rights," he adds.
The petition also talks about long notice periods that companies mandate, and also the expectation that employees stay online on WhatsApp groups on off days.
Vijay Gopal points out the only punishment under the Shops and Establishments Act for all these labour violations by the IT firms is just Rs 100. "The labour department doesn't take any action, saying all the IT firms come under the Special Economic Zone and that any action against them has to be taken through the Director of SEZ, Visakhapatnam. We sent them legal representations in March 2019 to take action, till date they haven’t taken any action, nor have they responded,” he says.
The PIL is expected to be heard in October.
Editor's note: The story initially mentioned that the court had sent notice to Amazon India, this was an error on our part. Though the draft PIL mentioned Amazon, the version submitted in court did not and therefore no notice was sent to the company.