[This write up was prepared for my
speech on Nov 4, 2014 at the HR Meet of Hindalco. It is in
four parts. Read the next part tomorrow: Nov 5, 2014. The fourth part carries summing up. ]
Part one: Is our idea
of relationship moored in avoidance of dispute?
Now let us go back and
reflect on our motives. When we discuss Industrial relations, we hear very
often HR Managers say that ‘we have a very good relationship with our union –
we have not had a strike for last so many years.’ Some go further and say ‘we
solve our issues across the table – we do not have a single case in the labour
court.’ So our idea of relationship is rooted in avoidance of dispute.
But not exactly. When we
get married we create a relationship. And it is not based on avoidance of
disputes. It is based on acceptance of the other party. When we accept
friendship, it is not based on avoidance of disputes. It is based on acceptance
of the other party.
So my understanding is
that we must declare inclusion first, right at the beginning of the
relationship. That is the game changer.
After we set up a
factory near Hyderabad in eighties, sometime passed when we came to know that
our employees have met one Mr. Basi Reddy who was considered a naxalite and who
was usually underground. But he was leading unions in many companies and was
known to be a union leader who did not hesitate to resort to violence. We then
took an unusual step. We invited Basi Reddy to our factory. This unusual step
actually surprised him. He was expecting resistance from us. We explained our
people management policies to him and also told him that we practised
productivity bargaining. The result was creation of an atmosphere of trust and
A workman in our factory
remarked that at least two workers lose their jobs when a union is formed in an
establishment for the first time. He noted that such was not the case because
of the inclusive approach. Now the second story:
At ITC’s Ranjangaon
factory they started all practices with the intention of keeping a close
interaction with employees. But a union was formed. ITC then decided that if a
union was formed they must do everything to foster good relations with the
union. So a series of workshops were organised. This approach has resulted in
essentially a healthy relationship. If you go to this factory you will see two
boards or standees like you see those at the petrol pumps. One tells you that
you are at the gate of ITC Factory. The other was also built by ITC in
identical way – it tells you that ITC Kamgar Sanghatana leads employees. The
signboard tells you of the inclusive approach of ITC without saying so.
It is not as if in both
the cases there are no differences. What distinguishes these situations is that
in spite of differences the trust is not shaken.
The next question which
comes to our mind is what happens to the old factories which may not have
practised such inclusive approach? Can’t they repair the situation?
I would like to tell you
the story of Sandvik Asia.
Sandvik Asia was
known for very disturbed industrial relations. The situation continued till
about 1995 and there was a talk of closing down the factory. This factory was
rated among the worst in the Sandvik stable. The new CEO arrived who was a
Mexican. He put the consequences on table and asked the union to list all
issues they wished to resolve. The union gave a list of 78 issues! It was later
increased to 120 issues. The new CEO cleared all one by one. The issues were
recorded and as the CEO cleared one he struck it off the list in the meeting.
shows Sandvik Asia Union President and Gen Sec explaining their journey]
There was initial
scepticism but gradually industrial relations changed for better. The
productivity and pay both increased. The Sandvik Pune factory is now rated to
be one of the best and managers from other factories of Sandvik visit to study
the operations. You can see a general sense of pride and prosperity - many
workers own cars today. The union says without hesitation that after initial
skirmishes with the CEO, they developed a strong faith in his way of working
and trust. Today the Sandvik Asia employees talk of that transformation. I have
interviewed the President and Gen Sec of the Union.
So we know that ‘inclusion’
can be practiced anytime, healthy employee relations can be built, although it
will be undoubtedly an uphill task.
But I am not talking
about inclusion. It is about how inclusion can be practiced spontaneously, properly
Relationship is a mirror, it mirrors our persona. It tells people what
we stand for and what we do not stand for. It tells people whether we are timid
or strong. It tells people whether we are men of conviction and beliefs. And it
tells people whether we are sincere in building relationship – with groups and
Vivek S Patwardhan
"What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others."
Read the next part tomorrow: Nov 5, 2014
Labels: Asian Paints, Inclusion, Industrial relations, Innovative practice, ITC, Sandvik Asia