The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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IT spared strike by force

Calcutta, Dec. 12: The question of whether or not information technology companies will function during Thursday’s general strike was settled today with the CPM-affiliated trade union Citu promising not to stop employees from going to work.

“We would not force any worker to join the strike in any industry, including IT,” said Shyamal Chakraborty, the union’s Bengal president.

At Writers’ Buildings, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said: “The government will not allow picketing in front of IT units in Sector V (in Salt Lake) or prevent IT employees (from going to work). We have already held meetings with the representatives of IT companies to ensure transport is available.”

It wasn’t clear if he meant government transport would be made available or the companies were expected to organise their own. Government transport is unlikely since Citu rules the workers’ union.

The message, it seems, is IT companies will be free to work so long as they take care of the transport.

While the arrangement smacked of an uneasy compromise between a government led by the CPM and a union owing allegiance to the same party, an unprecedented meeting between a Citu leader and industry representatives took place under the eyes of the IT minister, Debesh Das.

The industry itself had sought the meeting where Chakraborty represented Citu.

An IT source said: “The industry listed its concerns about such disruptions. We also discussed the negative perception such disruptions cause outside the state and country.”

Company representatives said that a disruption at this time of the year would be even more damaging than usual as it was business closing time for most US companies.

Another meeting is scheduled tomorrow between government officials and chief executives of IT companies to work out the strategy to protect the industry from disruption on Thursday.

“We expect a dip in attendance and are planning our logistics strategy. We do not see why, if we take our employees to work in chartered buses before 6 am, there would be problems,” said Siddharth Mukherjee, vice-president and head of Calcutta operations of Cognizant Technology.

Through the IT minister, the government made it known that it would extend the support required to keep the companies working. “The government will never stop people from going to work and will not allow any third party to cause disruption,” Das said.

Citu had said earlier it would make its decision on the IT industry known 48 hours before the strike, and announced today that it would not qualify for exemption.

If the chief minister’s objective was to win exemption, he has not succeeded. The promise not to force the strike on IT is, however, a success of sorts. Though the assurance should hold good for all industries, it does not in practice.

Tension between Bhattacharjee and central Citu leaders continues to simmer. Citu president M.K. Pandhe warned: “It will not be a correct decision if the government ensures special transport for IT. IT should not be treated differently.”

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