Responding with Responsibility

The strike at Maruti’s Manesar plant brought forth many issues. One of them is recognition of unions.

This issue is particularly a sore point with many MNCs who are accustomed to a different work culture. The laws in India and USA are not the same in the Industrial Relations area. Many Indian managers working for MNCs [who operate in India] find it difficult to convince their bosses abroad that the situation is very different in India. It is a fundamental right of employees to organise under the banner of a union.

When the pressure mounts from the HQ, the local managers start appeasement policies which are very damaging in the long run and do not serve the purpose of keeping the unions away.
One of the tactics practised is to have a works committee which works as a substitute to unions. This also does not work in the long run.

A renowned industrial house tried organising workers in four ‘houses’ like it is done in schools. This is an interesting concept. The underlying belief is that there is a need to organise for the employees and it needs to be met. So why not provide a structure? Interesting, but is it an effective substitute for a union? It all depends on how sensitively this novel concept is practised.

The real threat that managers feel, with a union at the door step, is of losing ability to influence their employees. If the processes are created around reaching employees then the need for unions may be obviated to some extent, at least in a small set up. My experience is that many organisations begin the exercise of 'reaching out' to employees after receiving a letter from union.

Perhaps their worry is not baseless; I feel it is rooted in reality to some extent. The alarming number of political leaders who enter the industrial relations scene for personal gains and create conflict situations is quite worrisome. Some of the news reports on Maruti episode also covered this angle.

Here is a report on the Moneycontrol’s website in the matter of Maruti strike:

Shop No 19 is a dark, dingy cubby-hole near Gaushala market on Mata Road in the heart of Gurgaon, the capital s gleaming satellite city that is home to the plush offices of Indian and foreign multinational corporations and luxury gated communities that house the executives working in them. A table stacked with papers and files hides two chairs behind it. Three walls of the room are pockmarked by peeling plaster and the fourth is covered by a huge photo poster of police trying to disperse a crowd with lathis. Beneath the photo is a slogan in Hindi that loosely translates to  Let s come together to make this bandh successful . It is the Gurgaon headquarters of the All-India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), India s most powerful trade union.

Anil Kumar, the dark, burly general secretary of AITUC, Gurgaon, is dressed in a frayed white shirt with the first two buttons off, black trousers and no footwear. He speaks with a strong Haryanvi accent and spends most of his time at Shop No 19 as he doesn’t t really have a job. Kumar has a criminal case against him. A few years ago, he was accused by the Haryana police of killing a worker during the Rico Auto labour strike. He says he didn’t do it. As things turn out, a 13-day labour strike at Maruti Suzuki s Manesar plant has made Kumar an important man.

Between June 4, when the strike started, and the night of June 16, when it was officially called off, Kumar and his comrades at AITUC also provided the muscle power and rallied support from workers in other companies. Ask him the reason behind the strike and he answers almost half asleep (he says he hasn’t t slept for days),  the labour department of Haryana is working together with the manufacturers to stop workers from forming a union.

Just as the industry needs HR managers who have the skills of dealing with unions and also have the ability to convince the employers to adopt practices that respect the rights of parties under the local laws, the unions also need responsible leaders who have credibility and who focus on workers’ interests rather than the political parties’. Moreover they too need to respect rights and obligations.

Take a look at what demand Pratap Sarnaik, local MLA in Thane, Maharashtra, is making on a school run by Singhanias which allowed some concessions to Raymond’s employees. The employees are no longer in service because they have retired under VRS. Sarnaik is deliberately ignoring that certain concessions come to employees by virtue of their being employed. When the employment ceases, the concessions which were available as employees also cannot be claimed. Sarnaik intends to settle the issue by threat of violence. Unfortunately political interests override considerations of institutions’ rights under laws; and no political party can claim clean record in that count.

In final analysis, people who can respond responsibly are required on both the sides of the table. Responsibility, Osho says, is the ability to provide appropriate response. [And it just does not apply to management and unions, it applies equally to the Government! Not stepping in to stop nonsense on industrial relations matter is abdication of responsibilities.]

Read the full story of Raymonds here.


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