[My speech at Uni Apro SAARC Sub Regional Seminar at Kathmandu, Nepal on May 21, 2016]
I was invited to participate in SAARC Sub-Regional Seminar of UNI Apro. The subject chosen was relevant
and important for all who are interested in employee relations. For me personally it was [and it is] important. Let me explain the reason. I retired seven years
ago and I have been meeting workers, professionals and managers from various
industries. I have met union representatives. I have also been interviewing
them to learn their view point and their concerns. The reality of employee
relations scenario in India is disturbing.
It is against this
backdrop of my experience that I am considering the subject ‘Multi-stakeholder’s Collaboration: Way forward for
mutual adjustment to stimulate sustainable growth for just transition in South
been my experience?
The Case of Courier Boy
I interviewed a young
boy. Let us call him C. His family came to Thane [we can call this a twin city
of Mumbai] from Tamil Nadu in search of job. C enrolled in a school, and when
he was 12 he started doing small jobs to supplement family earning. He cleared
his matriculation. C has workable knowledge of English. Later he also obtained
His first job was in
DTDC. He took up this job when he was just 15 years old. There was no
appointment letter. The work was tiring and basic facilities were not provided.
After working there for some time, he quit the job to join Trent. Trent has
shops in malls called ‘West Side.’ He was paid Rs 8500 pm. But his working
hours were twelve. There was no place to sit. There was incentive paid if the
sales crossed Rs 30 lakhs. So C discovered that all that glitters is not gold
and left the job. He joined ‘Gojavas’ which is another courier company. They
pay him Rs 12000 pm. Social benefits like PF, ESIC are complied with. He has to
do minimum 40 deliveries in a day. If any product is lost, its cost is deducted
from his salary. He takes his own bike to work. He is paid Rs 2.50p per Km but
he has to meet the maintenance expenses, and traffic fines on his own. His
company has procured accident insurance of Rs 5 lakhs.
We have to remember
that the Flipkart’s couriers had to stage agitation demanding basic facilities
like toilets. Interestingly they went to political parties who were not exactly
supportive of the demands of the courier employees. Flipkart and Amazon engage contractors
to provide product deliveries.
He asked what his future
was. I asked him what he thought about it. He does not know. Probably working
as a supervisor. Now that he is in his twenties, he is worrying about how he
will raise a family. He wonders if his family [as and when he acquires one] can
move up in social status.
Nursing Injuries: The
Case of Hospital Staff
I met nurses and I also
met some non-nursing staff. A large contingent of nursing staff comes from
Kerala. Their dream is to take up a job abroad, in Gulf countries or in UK or
USA. They can make good savings, lead better quality of life and usually find
their life partner too. It is necessary to get two or three years of experience
in India to land a good job abroad. So a job in India is necessary to acquire
such experience and save some money for travel and passport.
The nurses want more
cash in hand. The hospital authorities do not want to increase their overheads,
namely PF and Gratuity. So a deal is struck! The nurses are appointed as ‘retainers.’
They get overtime, sometimes the overtime is a fixed amount not connected with
But not all nurses go
abroad. Some get married in India and settle down. When it comes to raising a
family the first jolt is received. ‘You are a retainer; you are not entitled to
maternity benefit!’ ‘Why?’ the nurse asks. She is unable to understand the
difference between an employee and a retainer. In practice such a difference
does not exist. It is a little late in the day when she realizes that she had
compromised her future accepting so called retainership.
The Case of Bank M&A
A bank, let us call it K, acquired another bank V. K
was a modern, cash rich bank. It took care of its employees. They claimed that
they had eliminated the clerical work from bank completely.
A large staff was female, and among them several
were ‘retainers.’ They did clerical jobs, they did specialist jobs, and some of
them were professionals. The retainers did everything which an employee did,
except that no social benefits were payable like PF, ESIC and Gratuity. Then
there was another category. They were called FTE [Fixed Term Employees]. Their
contracts were FTC [Fixed Time Contract]. When a FTC comes to an end, for the
reason of expiry of the term, you do not have to pay retrenchment compensation.
This proportion of ‘retainers’ and FTEs among bank
K’s working population was shockingly large. And now bank K faced a very
peculiar problem – it had acquired bank V which had a few thousand employees
and a large number of them were organised by a union.
The threat perceived by K was that the newly
acquired bank’s Union will ‘destroy’ the work-culture and work-ethic. Being a
commercially successful bank, it believed that the culture and work-ethic was
the best in the industry. The underlying belief of the Bank K is that Unions
tend to destroy exemplary and productive work culture and work ethic!
When exploitation is
I was speaking to
production manager of a company. He said, “We take ITI trained persons as well
as Diploma Engineers as trainees. They are engaged for one year. They have to
leave after one year. But we teach them the Japanese way to manufacturing so
they get a job immediately.”
“Do they get a permanent
job?” I asked.
“No,” he said, “They
again find employment as trainees. They go to Bosch, Kirloskar, Mahindra &
Mahindra, and Bajaj Auto after leaving us. If they are lucky they find a
I decided to meet a
group of trainees. They came from Bajaj auto, Tenneco, Hyundai Construction
Equipment, Mather & Platt and some other organisations. The trainees from
Bajaj said, “When we joined we were told that we will be put on probation of
six months after completing training for one year. But that is not how it
turned out. About five or six months ago, that is to say, just before the
permanent workers resorted to strike, the Management told us that we will have
to undergo two years training.”
“So did the trainees continue or did they leave?”
“Some left and others continued. The Company employed more trainees when the
permanent workers resorted to strike. But it was very difficult to work in
those days. They increased the speed of assembly line. Sometimes they made us
do the work of two stages. If you make a mistake, they remove the part. You are
supposed to repair it after the shift timings but they do not pay us overtime;
it has to be done in our personal time.”
I would like to quote the Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexievich. She said in her Nobel
Many times I have been shocked and
frightened by human beings. I have experienced delight and revulsion. I have
sometimes wanted to forget what I heard, to return to a time when I lived in
understand the problem in perspective. We have to understand it in the context
of our culture.
India, there is acceptance of imperfection; nothing has to be perfect nor has
to go exactly as planned. India is traditionally a patient country where tolerance
for the unexpected is high; even welcomed as a break from monotony. People
generally do not feel driven and compelled to take action-initiatives and
comfortably settle into established rolls and routines without questioning. Rules
are often in place just to be circumvented and one relies on innovative methods
to “bypass the system”. A word used often is “adjust” and means a wide range of
things, from turning a blind eye to rules being flouted to finding a unique and
inventive solution to a seemingly insurmountable problem. It is this
attitude that is both the cause of misery as well as the most empowering aspect
of the country. There is a saying that “nothing is impossible” in India, so
long as one knows how to “adjust”.
to the Unenforceable
The eminent jurist Nani
Palkhiwala delivered a convocation address at XLRI, Jamshedpur. It is one of
the most persuasive document which preaches quick settlement of all industrial
disputes. Arbitration could be a very effective method if we can think
and change what comes in the way its effectiveness.
captioned his speech with characteristic insight: ‘Obedience to
the Unenforceable.’ Values can’t
be enforced on people. They can only be punished for non-compliance. Nobody can
teach us how to practice value based management. In final analysis we have to
decide what values we wish to practice.
making laws. But those are not implemented with rigorously – neither by the
Government nor by Employers. And not also by Unions.
The ground level
realities are very different. Employers like those managing hospitals and banks
are taking short cuts to profit. It also suits the convenience of a section of
employees. In a sense both are conniving to the breach, ignoring long term
Ladies and Gentlemen, I
have some questions in my mind. I am searching answers to those questions. Let
Can we expect
implementation of Decent Work concepts at all levels?
Is it even reasonable
to expect it?
My submission is that rigorous
implementation of laws of the land is the first pre-requisite for implementing
Decent Work concept.
Labels: Decent Work, Employee Relations, Exploitation, labour, Labour Law Compliance, Multi-stakeholder collaboration, UNI Apro