Article (August-2017)


Do you have right capabilities to handle Industrial relations of new era?

Vinod Bidwaik

Designation : -   Director- HR

Organization : -  DSM India Pvt. Ltd., Pune


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Industrial relations (IR) is one of the most important functions of Human Resource; however, it was always ignored by organizations. The old generation who handled the IR function in factories is not able to come out from conventional mindset. When any workman comes to them, their first reaction is denial. After globalization and during good times (from 2000 to 2007), the more focus was on hiring, training & engaging workmen. Due to attrition, focus on building IR skill set got ignored. The hardcore HR professionals took the charge and missed the important aspect of future IR challenges. After 2007, when great recession started, the insecurity among blue collar workmen leads to forming unions in organizations. Even the debate started on if software engineer is workman or not. The old school of thought forgot that the workmen demography what they used to handle (in 1970 & 1980s) has changed dramatically.

The old school of thought which includes IR professionals is professionals who are in 50 & 60s now. They are reactive and their focus is on compliance, discipline, negotiations, labor laws, entitlement etc. The new generation that came in HR during 2000 to 2007, mainly worked in HR, handling reactive recruitment, coordinating trainings and formulating policies etc. They were not inclined to work in difficult circumstances like handling unions and participating in collective bargaining. Old IR professionals did not develop their subordinates in hardcore IR. They were not allowed to participate in negotiations. They kept the exposure of IR with themselves. Subordinates used to work only on data and preparing minutes of meeting. That is the reason; HR professionals are lacking the skill sets in handling unions and workmen on shop - floor. New age HR professionals also did not show interest in learning IR skills and preferred to remain involved with soft assignments. There are professionals, who leave the organization when settlement is in progress and joined where the settlement is already done. By every three - four years they keep moving & taking credit of wage settlements.

Old IR professionals did not much rely on labour lawyers because they were updated on labour regulations. They used to take the help of lawyers & consultants only in domestic enquiries and court cases. On the contrary, new generation of IR professionals is fully dependent on lawyers and consultants which are creating lot of internal issues. If you observe incidents happened in last few years, you will see the inability of management and IR professionals of creating conducive atmosphere for negotiations thereby, sometimes, landed up with paying unreasonably more during negotiations.

The new generation of workmen is technology savvy, they are more connected than IR professionals and they are aware of what's happening in other organizations. They have high expectations and ready to learn new things, if they are convinced properly. You can't threaten them by punishment. On other side companies are in different mindset. Digitalization, automation, flexibility, cost, productivity and profit are on their day to day agenda and probably not the sustained harmonious employee relations.
The word is changing fast. Let us few consider few dimensions:
  • Attitude towards job security is changing, there are no permanent employments but organizations are putting efforts on employability.
  • Employers want more with minimum resources, but believe on engaging right talent. 
  • Employers are putting more efforts in building capabilities among employees.
While above dimensions are more prominent, IR professionals should come out from their conventional mindset. They need to take pro-active approach. I have not yet heard any written IR vision and strategy. The approach is always reactive and nobody would like to engage workmen and line managers how they would like to handle the IR scenario in their organization irrespective of having union or not.
IR professionals (or HR managers handling IR) should change the mindset on difference dimensions:
I believe IR professionals need specific skills sets. HR managers handling HR function may need the full support from IR expert who should be the full - time IR professional. Companies need to equip them on strategy and should focus on their development and of course, they should be paid at par to other HR guys.