A career in HR has several
puzzles in store. You decisions have an impact, sometimes great impact,
favourable or otherwise, on people's lives. In my career I have often engaged in
lengthy discussions about what the right thing to do was.
It takes years to find the right
answer, and I realise that it is rooted in what you are. There is a ‘puzzle of
identity’ [as Charles Handy puts it] to be solved. Charles Handy comes out with
such a clear thinking expressed in simple words about the puzzle of identity –
he says that responsibility is the key to identity. It helps us establish our
identity. What is the meaning of responsibility? Osho says it is the ‘ability’
to provide appropriate ‘response.’ He has explained it in simple but so apt
Paints lost its Paint manufacturing section in Bhandup [Mumbai] factory to
fire, they applied for retrenchment because there was no work that could be
given to about 150 out of about 350 workers. There was a suspicion that the
factory land will be sold to real estate developers; so it was clarified in a
communication that they will be building a new factory. When the permission to
retrench was received from the Government of Maharashtra, the workers
approached and requested for higher compensation. Retrenchment compensation
would have been woefully inadequate. The company gave a compensation which was
five times higher than the legal dues.
Contrast this against the Mill
Owners’ attitude during the aftermath of the Textile strike in 1982. Let us
take the case of Phoenix Mills which has constructed a mall. It is a very
popular landmark in Mumbai. This is what a shocking report on Phoenix Mills
1995: Yet again, the Management
moves to declare the mill as sick and approaches the BIFR. The approved revival
scheme allows tax concessions. Management is directed to upgrade machinery and
constitute a committee accountable to banks and financial institutions to
oversee the modernisation and revival process. Once these tax concessions were
approved, no revival scheme was implemented.
23rd April 1998 – The Management
applies to the BMC for adding recreational facilities such as table tennis,
health clubs and – of course - bowling alleys. On the grounds that its workers
are “continuously demanding these facilities, and went on agitation in Jan-98”.
Yes – workers demanding bowling alleys, sauna steam baths and billiards tables.
April and May 1998 – Management
begins to terminate services of staff across various departments. The
processing department is closed abruptly. Second and third shift at the Mills
July 1998 – Labour Court issues
an order to the Mill to restart closed departments and reinstate workers.
Workers allege that just before the orders, Management had introduced a voluntary retirement scheme
(VRS) for retrenched workers. In the meantime Phoenix Towers is constructed
over what unions allege was space reserved for a municipal school and a public
garden. Not a single paisa from these constructions goes to the workers.
[See: Mumbai Matters: April 19,
2006, ‘Phoenix Mills – ‘Because the story must be told’]
But of course the identity is a
question to which we find an answer after some experiences that shake us. Or
perhaps shame us! What I mentioned to you was about how organisations dealt
with those issues. How did I find my identity? I think that will take many days
of introspection to answer the question. But two incidents have stayed on my
mind which I will share:
As a Labour
Welfare Officer I had to recruit a large number of workers, we were recruiting
almost two hundred workers. They were initially recruited as temporary workers.
One of them was an albino. Albino is a person who has no pigmentation under his
skin so he almost looks white. Albinos are unfortunately victims of many
prejudices; one of them is that a person with ‘white feet’ is a bad influence.
One of the shop floor leaders came to me and suggested that I should get rid of
the Albino. I refused. Then the production managers approached and suggested
that I should be ‘pragmatic’ and not raise ‘unnecessary’ issues. Then there was
pressure gradually developing from other sources. All this happens in a subtle
way as you would know. Finally I relented. I asked him to leave. He sat in my
office very depressed, and then left. I could not sleep that evening. I
realised that I had acted against dictates of my conscience. I made a resolve
that never again I will do anything that I will regret later.
later I was told by Sales Manager that there was a clerk in his establishment
who was passing a lot of information to a certain dealer. He was alleged to be
a mole of that dealer in our office. I had heard about this earlier too. The
din against the clerk’s behaviour was rising and the Sales manager told me that
I should sack the clerk. On actual investigation I found that there was
absolutely no evidence against him. He had a spastic son so he rarely socialised
with his office colleagues. He also came from another State so he became an
easy target. The pressure mounted on me but I refused to dismiss the clerk. The
Albino experience had prepared me for this eventuality.
We must reflect and learn from
our own experiences. Finding one’s identity does not come automatically; the route to discovery often goes through
some blunders and remorse. But in the final analysis, personal
responsibility is the key to identity. We must decide what do we stand for and
what we do not stand for too.
Labels: Asian Paints, HR Manager, Identity, Phoenix Mall, Phoenix Mills, Values