No Rest, No Leisure, Nothing Else But Work - The Life of IT Employees in Times of ‘Work from Home’
“Life of an IT Professional -
‘Shall I share my screen?’
‘Am I audible now?’
‘Correct me if I’m wrong’
‘Did you receive my email?’
‘Ok, I’ll fix the code and send the status by EOD.’
Meeting Deadlines of work.
This is a meme widely shared by IT professionals among themselves. What else could have been a simpler expression of their misery after all? How else does an IT worker, absorbed in meeting deadlines throughout the day, tell companions what the promised ‘highly paid’ profession has meant to them?
This simple meme reminds us of the dehumanisation of an industrial worker portrayed in the Charlie Chaplin classic “The Modern Times”. The conveyor belts potrayed in Modern Times has metamorphosed into ‘Homes’ as places of extracting money from the body and mind of the worker. The capitalist continues to thrive appropriating labour from the worker, even when the country is neck dipped in pandemic.
In normal times, IT employees spend a 13 hour work day for their job. This includes employee engagement of 9 hrs by rule, 2 hrs extension for meeting daily deadlines, travelling time to office and preparatory chores. Even this is not enough for the workers to survive in their job. Code solutions for the software they are working upon have to developed before stipulated time come what may. The mental space for the rest of the 11 hours of the day, thus is engaged in solving the equations. ‘Competition’ is the justification for the inhumanely short deadlines, because ‘competition must thrive’ is the ideology of capitalism.
As the Covid-19 Pandemic hit the world, ‘Work from Home’ was the instruction given to the IT professionals. What has this change in work place meant for the IT workers? Has it meant more leisure time at home for the workers who do not have to travel to office anymore? Most IT employees report that the work load has increased since ‘Work from Home’ has started operating. The deadlines for fulfilling a task have become further shorter.
The companies, on the other hand, have only gained from the situation. The operational cost for the companies has come down drastically in ‘Work from Home’ situation. This has resulted in significant growth in the profits of the IT companies. But salaries of the employees have not increased accordingly. In fact, most of the companies have taken advantage of the pandemic and used the opportunity to keep the annual hikes in employee’s salary very low. Let us take IT giants Infosys and Wipro for example. The announcements of Q on Q results of Infosys and Wipro have shown around 30% operational profits. But when we look at the announced hike in employee’s salary, it is merely 2 to 4% for majority of workforce covered under 2 (met expectation) and 1 (commendable work) ratings of the Bell curve. The hike is 5-7% for very few employees covered by 1+ (exceeded expectations) rating.
Apart from the low hikes, there are no hikes given at all in many of the companies. Thousands of terminations have been recorded in big MNCs. Forcing the employees for voluntary resignations has been the tactics used by such companies for long to avoid the legal consequences. Even the small and medium enterprises have resorted to illegal layoffs and cutting down of wages by 50%, even 100% in some cases, in the name of furlough.
Most of the companies do not provide reimbursement of internet and electricity bills or the cost to set up required infrastructure for office work at home. In the present ‘Work from Home’ era, there is no fixed office hour. Employees are now expected to remain logged in 24x7 and be available for work whenever there is a requirement by clients.
Leave approvals have come down as the work from home for 14 hrs/day is treated as a stay at home or a holiday by the employers. The companies rarely support their COVID hit employees. Insurance and health care for the employees are non-existent in today’s time.
When it comes to women employees, working mothers in particular, the situation is far more worse. They are doubly burdened with household chores, child care and the task of meeting deadlines for office work. The fact that creches for child care are closed in lockdown are not accounted for by companies while giving task to its employees.
These are times when the lack of unionisation among IT workers become starker. The culture of individual bargaining with the authorities have been consciously encouraged by the MNCs to check the process of unionisation among IT workers. The system of ‘performance’ evaluation of the employees through bell curve and other means has been designed to keep the employees in constant competition with each other. Those who do not ‘meet expectations’ can be fired anytime according to the wish of the company.
On the 135th anniversary of the historic workers struggle of Chicago, when we remember the sacrifices of workers to achieve 8 hour work day, let us resolve to intensify the battle against today’s regime that has given free hand to companies to deny the workers of their hard earned rights. The task of the day is to help IT workers to make their own union to fight for their own rights. It is time to reiterate that it is the labour of the workers in every sector of the economy, that produces profit for the companies. When anti-worker labour codes have been passed by the parliament, it is time that workers in every sector unionise and strengthen the battle against today’s Company Raj. It is time to unite and fight back because today’s regime do not spare the tax paying, white collar IT community. The strength of the workers are in unity and that must be forged at all cost.
Work from Home has only intensified the exploitation of IT employees while the companies are reaping super profits by drastically slashing down their expenses in the name of pandemic. IT employees are also forced to work more hours in the name of work from home. IT employees should fight to work for legally sanctioned eight hours and should refuse to work more. WFH is not a boon but a bane.
Long live the revolutionary legacy of May Day!
Long live the Unity of Workers!