As per a recent report by Bank of America, IT firms in India are set to slash 3 million jobs by the next year via RPA or Robot Process Automation. The report also claims a reduction in $100 billion in terms of cost to these companies. The Indian domestic IT sector employs 16 million people out of which 9 million are lower skilled or BPO workers whose jobs are at a higher risk of loss as per the report.
With this statement we seek to emphasise that unemployment should not be a natural consequence of automation, and that certain worker protections can ensure that automation does not leave workers without any livelihood.
India has already been facing its worst unemployment crisis since the beginning of 2019 and 2 years of COVID waves have only worsened the scenario. Although the IT firms have amassed huge profits, they have used the pandemic as an excuse to significantly cut their labour force.
Automation and private production
Automation is inevitable and necessary in the production process with its primary aim being making tasks easier and more efficient, as well as making the production process more transparent. Private production with a profit incentive ensures that automation does not work in the interest of workers. The working hours of employees are not reduced, but a skill-based distinction of employees is created, and people falling lower among those questionable parameters are constantly retrenched. A higher unemployment level also drives down the bargaining power of the employed workforce and puts additional work pressure on them. Thus private owners of capital not only make higher profits but by the virtue of their ownership also increase surveillance.
Workers’ response to automation
The trade union movement thus in its entire history has always fought this trend by demanding a reduction of working hours with increasing automation. It has also demanded an increase in wages and unemployment protection apart from other legal rights to help workers fight the onslaught of private capital on their livelihoods.
Currently, where the rate of automation in the IT industry is piling on the misery of workers, the historic demands of the unions have seen reinforced relevance. We have seen a worsening of the scenario with the passing of the labour codes last year, which have given many organisations, especially in the IT sector, a free hand with hiring and firing. They have also made dispute resolution among workers and employers more difficult and have made the registration and recognition of unions more complicated. Working hours have also increased in some states using laws passed last year. In the IT industry, working hours are regularly increased via third party labour contracts that openly violate existing labour laws.
- AIITEU reiterates its demand that the regressive new labour codes be scrapped completely.
- AIITEU reiterates its demand for a reduction in working hours to 6 hours per day and 5 days a week, and for the formation of regulations relating to working from home. Working from home should come with rights, such as the right to privacy and the right to logout.
- AIITEU demands the registration of unemployed youth and provision of unemployment benefits to them.
We would like to highlight the gravity of the crisis and call upon IT sector employees and workers to unite for these demands in order to fight the current avoidable consequences of automation.
A united workforce can ensure that automation is a humane process. A divided workforce allows automation to trample upon worker rights.