We must restore the pride in the age-old employee relations skills and re-skill young HR leaders to handle the equally young workforce
It is time for corporate activism where corporates can stand up and demand that laws be implemented in word and spirit
The present day dynamics of the business world is characterized by stiff competition, mergers & acquisition, divestitures, outsourcing and restructuring as well as realignment of the workforce. Much water has flown under the bridge ever since the economy was liberalized. Employers adopted as well as adapted to innovative practices to meet the challenges posed by globalization. As businesses boomed in the post liberalization era, somehow, the need for good industrial relations took a backseat resulting in a gradual breakdown of the employer-employee relationship. As a complementary, the archaic labor laws too did not keep pace with changing times to accommodate the dramatic changes in business environment. Incidences at Pricol Industries, Regency Ceramics and yes, more recently, that of Maruti and Everest Industries has once again brought the importance of employer-employee relations back to centrestage. These catastrophic breakdowns in the industrial relations across the country, impacting employment and employer-employee relations, was precisely what Employers’ Federation of India National HRM Summit 2012 “Employee Relations 2012 – Need for Resurgence & Revival” aimed to address.
Setting the tone of the 2-day summit, Rajeev Dubey, President – EFI & President (Group HR & Aftermarket) & Member of Group Executive Board, Mahindra and Mahindra Limited, spoke about the theme, the need to revisit old paradigms and create a competitive yet fair and inclusive workplace. He emphasized upon the fact that it is in the best interest of the business environment to bring Industrial Relations on the radar screen of the ‘Board’. At a time when the nation is gripped with ‘activism’ of one form or the other, the EFI President took the opportunity to dwell upon the need of ‘corporate activism’, where corporates can stand up and demand that laws be implemented in words and spirit.
Sudha Pillai, Former Labor Secretary and Member Secretary Planning Commission Government of India, reiterated that ‘laws’ will move and there is a need for ‘flexibility, stability and balance.’ The underlying message was clear that the key elements of the employer-employee relation ecosystem viz. government, union, employer and employee must shed their inhibitions and work towards a shared objective, which will be mutually beneficial. The keynote speakers, representatives of the ecosystem, too addressed the summit from a business perspective as well as from the perspective of the people engaged in the business - the workforce. However, the recent industrial unrest, gave the representatives of the ecosystem to emphasize on the genesis of such unrests and what is the way out. The archaic laws, bureaucracy and control regime of inspectors, inflexibilities in deployment of workforce under supported by rigidity in labor legislation were cited as factors that ail the industrial relations in India and have now begun to affect employment generation as well.
Dr. R. Krishna Murthy, Director, Industrial Relations Institute of India mentioned that, “Archaic laws have made it difficult for businesses to operate,” further adding that the new settlements with workers being arrived at could possibly infect the industry as a whole. J. N. Amrolia, Executive Director – Construction & Allied Business, Ashok Leyland, highlighted the four issues that have led to the surge in unrests viz. contract labor and the wage disparity, non-willingness of MNC’s to recognize unions, contractors not paying the workers, and communication gap. B. Sherdiwala, Vice-President – HR & Administration, ACC, while agreeing that there is a vast disparity of wages of contract labor as compared to permanent labor, made an interesting observation that despite the same work, the contract workers do not command the same level of respect.
As the speakers analyzed the various facets of the unrest, a generally agreed upon point was the breakdown of the ‘bilateral relation’ between employer and employee. While employers felt that multi unionism is a challenge that they are faced with in their bid to reach out to employees, Dr. K. Balachadran Kongo, AITUC, argued that workers should have the freedom to associate with a union of their choice. However, all the players of the ecosystem agreed that there is a need for common platforms for dialogs between employees and employers. The suggestion to create an ‘emotional savings account’ to tide over crisis time was appreciated by one and all. Satish Pradhan, Head HR, Tata Group, was of the opinion that, “People must be looked at more from a people point of view rather than a factor of production.” He further stressed upon the need to believe that, “We are multiple stakeholders and that we need to take care of each other,” a point even the trade union representatives agreed to.
Given the surge of industrial unrests and the inability to deal with them, industry veterans pointed to the need of urgently restoring the pride in the age-old employee relations, and skilling and re-skilling young HR leaders to handle the equally 'young' workforce.