HR Managers, their associations, Unions and Journalists have
written volumes about the latest Maruti Suzuki case of violence leading to
death of their HR Manager. Petitions have been circulated, signature campaigns
done and interviews were given on TV shows by all concerned.
So you might ask me, “Do you have anything new to tell the world?”
Sure, Sir. A valid question! The answer is that I have
experienced violence first hand and not watched from side-lines. [Several
Personnel Managers were assaulted in yesteryears – why are they silent?] Here is
an experience and my conclusions, no doubt personal conclusions they are,
presented to you which, I hope will, provide a different perspective on the
issues at micro level.
Nobody [usually] hits another employee
without being ‘instructed!’
There are reasons for this behaviour. Let us understand that
workers are not a different breed. They behave not-too-differently from
managers. They would not touch any fellow manager or employee. But when they
are told that they are fighting the larger cause of workers’ benefit, fighting for a 'cause,' the
situation changes. The attitude changes.
Following the strike at our plant, I was assaulted inside Labour
Court building at Thane in May 1986 as I was running to save myself from assailants
and entered the office of Mr Muzumdar, Presiding Officer of Labour Court. The
assailant hit me while I was inside his chamber. Fortunately it was only a hard
blow without any weapon, but resulting in eye injury that required two days of hospitalization.
Who hit me? Were they from my organization? No they were not. I had seen
the assailants, they were not our employees. The assailants were hired from a
How did I know? Sir, if you are doing a plant job, you
develop your own network which feeds you with remarkably accurate information.
Trust me. At least a dozen veterans of seventies and eighties will readily
Like any Plant Personnel Manager I had my friends among workmen.
Many of them called me up at home, felt concerned about the assault. These were
not crocodile tears.
Then what explains the assault? It is easy [and I know this
to be true!], it was arranged by non-workmen among the union office-bearers.
In another case where a workman assaulted the Factory Manager,
the enquiry was completed after three years, and the workman was about to be
dismissed. At this juncture the workman took an unusual step. He approached the
Factory Manager at his home, confessed his wrong-doing, asked for pardon and
explained how as a young man he was ‘instructed’ to assault.
I would like to believe that an ordinary workman is prone to
be misguided like any other young man. In Maruti Suzuki there were plenty of
young men who could be misguided particularly in the light of the strikes of
2011 in the same factory, and when emotions were running high on an issue.
The point I wish to make is that this is, in my opinion, more
a work of external agents than spontaneous reaction of workmen. And I also
would like to say that instigation by external agents does not mitigate the
offence of killing Awanish. Those who killed Awanish must be punished, but punish
we must those who instigated it.
The powerless is a sitting duck in
a conflict; the real leader must come in the forefront.
The local Maruti management is perceived as helpless
bystander, notwithstanding its MD who is Japanese. It is widely believed that
when Maruti management was negotiating with workers in the previous strike, they had
to take instructions constantly through video conferencing from their HQ in
Japan. Their HQ actually made press statements about the strike. It is believed
that the local management, following the 2011 strike, was perceived as a
powerless entity and a puppet in the hands of HQ, by workmen.
What happens when a powerless tries to show ‘who is in
control.’ He invites great apathy and anger.
This coupled with the fact that the MD of Maruti Suzuki made
statements that showed that the organization believed in ‘controlling’ workmen
[See my blog post] and their unions can only enrage an ‘adversary.’ Nobody
wants to lose control of the workplace. The Japanese elsewhere had shown that
they had gone a long way to build relations. But not in Maruti Suzuki.
It takes enormous energy and a
strong will to rebuild relations.
Did you ever read about any specific efforts of Maruti
Suzuki of building bridges with employees or workers in particular after the
2011 strikes? The press was covering Maruti story constantly and watching it like
a doctor watches a patient in ICU; they never reported any positive step. It
would have made an excellent story of ‘let bygones be bygones.’ It could have
served as a model for other employers. But the press savvy Maruti never took
that step. What will you say about an organization that experiences turmoil but
does not address the sentient issues concerning it? Will you say that it is
culpable? Yes Sir, in my eyes it surely is.
Let me also give you an extreme story. But one that shows
the way. When some employees made very adverse remarks in employee engagement
survey about a Director of a management institute at Pune, he took a step which
might read shocking and unbelievable, but I can swear that it is true. The
Director [for whom many of his students are willing to die] actually prostrated
before those employees and said something to this effect ‘I have a vision of
creating this as one of the greatest institutions; I might have gone wrong in
some ways and hurt you, please pardon me. But please be with me in my journey,
I need your support.’ I repeat that this is a true story.
I am not suggesting that we go to the extreme to which the
Director went. But we have to appreciate that it takes open heart and mind to
make a proactive step to rebuild relations.
Building relations, this example tells us, requires exposing
yourself. We know that it is ‘disclosures’ or an open admission of feelings,
acknowledgement of failures that go a long way in building relations, particularly
in re-building relations. Rebuilding is possible if we drop our defenses and show that
we are, like the other party, very fallible.
Building sensitivity to people issues within organisation
requires a determined effort, a concerted effort. Very often with the emotions
running high among fellow managers, the task of an HR Manager to re-build
sensitivity and relations is next to impossible if the top management does not
effectively champion it. While remarks of the Toyota Kirloskar MD [see my blog-post
mentioned above] show that the organisation had done collective introspection,
there is nothing to that effect in Maruti Suzuki.
Do we want to fight battles, win war against external unions
and impose employer-sponsored internal unions? Or do we want to take employees with
us on the journey to fulfil the mission? These are the questions to be answered.
The textile mill owners in Mumbai and Maruti Suzuki in Manesar unfortunately provided
a common answer in their actions.
Even if the Government does not
amend the Contract Labour Act, can we proactively define policies for
engagement of contract labour in our organisations?
The fact is that HR managers do not give contracts or
control award of contract for certain jobs. Contractors are appointed by line
managers and the HR managers have often bad case on their hand. In many
organisations both contract workers and permanent workers work on the same jobs.
Instances are not unknown when they work in shifts relieving each other. Such
situations arise because there are no stance taken at organisational level on
when and where to appoint contract labour and otherwise. The solution lies in
developing and communicating an internal policy on the issue of employment of
Very often the employees [managers included] respond to
fairness and not so much to ‘legalities’ because some cases can be obvious
breach of law but in many instances are ‘arguable’ cases. Even unions are aware
of it. There are unions [in the principle employer’s establishment] which have
brought about settlement between a contractor and his employees to secure
better service conditions. They know that contract labour is required for an
organisation in certain cases and there is no point in taking a very dogmatic
view. Go to Pune, the new industrial manufacturing hub, if you want to see some
The problem is that if we want to retain our influence over
our employees, we will have to loosen control.
And that does not come easily to some employers. That is my
take on this unfortunate episode.
Labels: Assault, Industrial relations, industrial violence, Maruti Suzuki Strike