This has been the subject matter of many a discussions. And
all who are IR watchers knew that it was coming. You guessed it right; I am referring
to the issue of lack of IR skills and expertise.
Businessworld has covered the issue of lack of IR skills and
expertise in its latest issue of Oct 8, 2012. In a long report [Link], they have
covered the full ground and explored this issue. I feel however that some
aspects have escaped attention.
Who is responsible
for IR policies?
It is the CEO who spells out the real IR policies by his
actions and deeds. For example let us see what is happening in Maruti Suzuki.
Mr Siddiqui, the head of HR of Maruti Suzuki takes a cautious and politically
correct stance: [quote, from BW report Labour Pains]
“Can external trade unions help improve industrial relations
in practice? Not everyone is sure, but Maruti’s Siddiqui is positive. He
says the perception that ‘external
unions are negative and independent internal unions are the best alternative’
needs to be revisited with an open mind in view of the critical need to have
mature, capable and responsible union leaders in the first place, whether
through external unions or an independent internal union.
“External unions, with very mature and capable leadership,
guided by progressive ideology, have
played an effective labour union leadership role over the years, while there
have been major failures of independent internal unions,” says Siddiqui.”
And this is what his MD said in January this year [TOI Jan7, 2012, quote] after emerging victor in his battle with union:
"I hope the workers in Manesar understand that an
internal union better represents their interests," said Maruti MD Shinzo
Can you make any meaning of this? Quite obviously, IR
policies, in ultimate analysis, are determined by the CEOs. If they take
stances which do not serve to lay down foundation of mature conflict resolution
then what can the poor IR manager will do?
The CEO sets
traditions by the way he resolves the conflicts
We must remember that the way conflicts are resolved by the
CEO creates a tradition, it ‘programs’ minds of many junior managers. The
stories of conflicts find their way in the ‘folklore’ at the organisation. This
is where leadership plays a very impactful role. To focus on lack of skills of IR
managers for resolution of conflicts is to hit the issue at a tangent!
We have to remember that a junior manager has many experts
available for solving IR problems. And there are plenty of them still
available. Many labour advocates are able to give, and they do give, not just
legal but very practical advice for handling difficult situations. The IR
manager, however, will find it difficult to cross the boundaries set by the
CEO. Siddiqui’s statement which run in stark contrast to his MD’s serve as glaring
evidence in support of this fact.
The real issue therefore is whether the CEO is paying
attention to the organisational culture by creating processes for interacting with
individual employees as well as interacting with unions. There is a wide gap in
competencies here! [It does not make business sense for a business magazine to
talk about it!] This is one of the most neglected areas in fast growing
organisations, particularly manufacturing organisations. [There is widely held
belief among the HR and IR professionals that unions are ‘bought out’ in
service industries like hotels and hospitals.] Added to this is the fact that
many CEOs of the manufacturing organisations are old timers with hardened [read
adversarial] attitude towards unions and industrial relations. There are some enlightened
organisations like ITC who revisit their actions, and get managers to collectively
introspect on the relations they are creating, and attempt at spreading
commonality of understanding on developing relations, but they are very, very few.
Generally speaking, IT/ ITES industry seems to be paying
much more attention to culture [or at least that is what reports seem to
suggest]. This is an obvious business necessity because the manpower cost is so
high. Moreover retention is a big issue. In the case of manufacturing
industries such a pressure is felt less acutely. Moreover, the approach to
industrial relations is one of ‘acting out of fear’ rather than ‘acting out of
What happened at
Pricol? There is a lesson to learn.
There was so much noise about the death of VP-HR of Pricol.
Rightly so, nobody should be killed. But when you read the elaborate statement
of facts on CPI-ML’s website [Link] on how the management flouted promises and
you wonder who the real culprit of the killing of their VP-HR was. Was it the
mob of people who were enraged or was it the management whose unfair practices provided
The Pricol story would only go to show that the CEO’s role
in building good industrial relations cannot be under-emphasised. Maruti Suzuki
management may have a lesson to learn here. In spite of their excellent press
coverage the public opinion remained against them. Not without justification as
we have seen. And that may provide a point for reflection to Maruti Suzuki too!!
Does the Press cover
the positives in IR?
There are organisations like ITC, Marico which often have
created innovative experiments in developing employee relations. Unfortunately
those have gone unnoticed. [And unsung too! Understandably so, violence in IR makes
a very juicy story in the Press, not creative and constructive work.] Such work
has been done clearly with the encouragement of their CEOs. They have realized,
in my opinion, that there is no point in just talking about values when those
are put to test in full public view in IR strife; such CEOs have shown acute awareness
of their role in translating the values for sound relations.
It is time to focus
on CEO’s accountability to develop harmonious IR.
While there is a ‘wave’ about defining values, do we realize
that the ultimate champion of values is not IR manager on the shop-floor, and
not even the HR manager, much as he would like to believe, but the CEO! If you do not focus on CEO’s accountability to developing
the harmonious Industrial Relations you are barking up the wrong tree!
Labels: Industrial relations, Labour Pains, labour unrest, Maruti Suzuki, pricol, Siddiqui, Violence