Indian IT staff could unionise, putting offshore model into question

Trade union organisations in India are calling on millions of Indian IT workers to unionise, as fears spread over mass redundancies

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Trade union organisations in India are calling on millions of Indian IT workers to unionise as fears over mass redundancies spread across the country's IT services industry.

Talk of Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), India’s biggest IT services provider, reducing its workforce of more than 300,000 by 10% has fueled fears in India’s IT sector. 

It's also been speculated IBM is planning to cut its workforce in the country by 50,000. According to a report from India, the IT giant has already reduced its India-based workforce from about 165,000 in 2011 to 113,000 in 2014.

According to the International Business Times, the All India Trade Union Congress and the Centre of Indian Trade Unions has asked software engineers to plan a strategy to resist the alleged workforce cut planned by India's largest software services firm. This collective activity would amount to unionisation.

Unionisation a major shift in Indian IT

Unionisation would be a major shift in the industry as Indian IT workers are not actually allowed to unionise. It would also make offshore services delivered from the country less competitive as staff demand higher pay and better working conditions.

Staff cuts in India are inevitable as the outsourcing sector goes through a period of major change. The traditional offshore model, where businesses paid for full-time equivalents, is less relevant today with the advent of modern technology, such as automation software and cloud services.

IT services firms traditionally grew in a linear way – typically, they win more business, then add more staff to support it. In many cases this has involved building large offshore workforces.

But service providers are now trying to reach the holy grail of non-linear growth. This means adding business without needing to add to the workforce to support it – reducing the proportional increase in the cost of providing an additional service.

At the same time, increased use of cloud-based IT is forcing IT services firms to add more higher-level support services, while the move to platform-based services in the cloud means there is less need for businesses to develop their own software.

The lack of labour rights in India also benefits businesses that want a flexible workforce that can be scaled up and down easily.

Massive consquences for offshore IT services

One IT outsourcing industry source said unionisation will have massive ramifications on offshore IT services. 

"This will mean less flexibility," he said. "Offshore IT operations will no longer be able to be ramped up and scaled down easily because it will no longer be easy to lay people off.”

He added if talk of TCS laying off 30,000 people in India is true, it will be evidence of the company's move towards non-linear business models. 

“Because TCS is a bellwether this could spread across the Indian IT industry,” he said.

Indian companies need to change if they are to continue to grow. According to ISG, between 2005 and 2008, Indian suppliers’ revenues grew at a combined annual growth rate of 32%.

But the recession, which began in 2008, has been a shot across the bows. In the years since, Indian firms have experienced half the growth rate, at 16%.

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