Article (February-2019)


Handling two blows at one time!

Editorial Team

Designation : -   Editorial

Organization : -  Business Manager HR Magazine


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MacPro Chemicals Ltd. is a manufacturing industry engaged in production of chemicals and industrial gases with multi location facility. The facility situated in outskirts of pune in industrial area employs around 400 permanent workmen, 200 trainees, 100 fixed term employees, 300 executives and other staff members along with around 700 workmen through contractors firms.

The facility has no formally registered union of workers but a culture was developed where management informally talks to few workers on various issues who were also representatives in different committees. It was indirect acceptance on both sides that whenever, some issues are erupted, it were resolved through them also. Such representatives who were only five in numbers were also very popular among workers and executives with high degree of engagement and discipline at work. But at some moments among these five representatives, differences were noticed by Anurag Mitra, GM-HR, when he demonstrated some liking and favour towards Yashwant, one of the five representatives by giving weight to his suggestion in comparison to others.

Few months back when management, at the strategic initiative of Anurag Mitra, GM-HR, decided about the increase in salary of contract workers because in comparison to surrounding industries, contractors' labour wages were low, it did not go down well among permanent workers. Workers' representatives except Yashwant expressed their displeasure over the increase and management's attempt to bring them somewhere equal to permanent workmen. This created a psychological divide between permanent and contract workers. About one month before, the workers' representatives met Anurag in routine and communicated that permanent workers will not join and participate this time in annual picnic if contract workers were also invited. It was a shock to Anurag. It was a common practice since last three years that all workers whether, permanent, contractual or trainees, all were invited and taken along for picnic in mixed  batches so that production also does not suffer and a sense of belonging is maintained. In spite of Yashwant rejecting this idea of other representatives in meeting, he could not succeed. He was seen standing by the side of management. However, Anurag thought it proper to hold the annual picnic event for sometime till the issue is diluted. But Anurag was anticipating some more trouble in coming days because the message that permanent workers do not want to go with them for picnic reached among contract workers which caused displeasure and a sense of humiliation was rampant.

One day during general shift, Astt. Manager of a section reported Anurag over phone that at a particular point, during some altercation between process operator and a contractual worker, operator opened one safety valve of a pipeline carrying toxic vapours, directing towards that contractual worker's face, which he consumed and got fainted. Seeing the situation, other contractual workers rushed to save his co-worker and in anger, pushed the process operator and also assaulted him with fists and blows. The contractual worker was immediately rushed to in plant dispensary, given first aid but taking a precautionary measure, shifted to the city best hospital. The situation became tense. Contractual workers left their workplaces and came out in open area of the plant before the administrative block. Seeing the situation, other process operators made out a complaint of assault on his colleague by contractual workers. It was also complained that the management has been very negligent in maintaining safe working conditions as the maintenance of the particular pipe line valves were not properly maintained and it got leaked of his own when process operator was there and contractual worker was also with him.

At the other end, when the contractual worker was shifted to hospital in unconscious condition, the matter was reported to police by the hospital administration. Police came and took the firsthand account from the co-workers who were present in the hospital to take care of his colleague. The welfare officer of the company was also there but he was reluctant in making any statement to police and was avoiding them. He remained busy in making calls to his HR bosses to update on the situation and get further instructions. He was asked to wait for orders. Police did not wait, lodged the FIR on the basis of the complaint of co-contractual worker in which it was alleged that the process operator knowingly opened the safety valve of the pipe line on the face of the victim to teach him a lesson. The vapours were toxic, which he inhaled and got fainted.

In plant, there was too much on plate for Anurag Mitra, GM- HR to handle. Many fronts were opened. He called Yashwant one of his trusted worker representatives to diffuse the issue, also called contractors to counsel and take away their workers from the open area to the respective places of work to bring back normalcy. Contractors expressed their inability to pacify the angry mob of the workers sitting in the open area before administrative block. They started slogan shouting and demanded immediate termination of that process operator.

On getting information that the FIR has been lodged by name in police against the operator by the management, inside permanent workers also stopped attending process machines and equipments as a sign of protest against the FIR by management. Supervisors and other technical officers were directed to immediately take charge of process machines and equipments which could not be left abandoned being chemical manufacturing plant of continuous process.

Yashwant was not on duty at that time so he was called from his home. This took time, so, other four representatives happened to be at work in plant, came to administrative block to meet Anurag. They were kept waiting till Yashwant came.

Welfare officer from the hospital informed Anurag that the condition of the workman was still critical. Anurag also talked to doctors to assess the gravity. Doctors indicated seriousness but they were putting their best to bring him out from danger zone.

When Yashwant reached, all met Anurag. The meeting atmosphere was much tense. They were apparently annoyed with the FIR lodged against his colleague at the behest of management. Anurag was taken aback. He tried to convince them that it was not management but the police did of his own and it was not the time to fight with each other but priority was to save the life of that worker first.

Since, top management instructed Anurag to immediately suspend the errant operator and start disciplinary action as he endangered the life of co-worker intentionally, Anurag  discussed the issue with representatives, tried to make them convince that operator should be suspended immediately, but all  did not accept the proposal rather pressurized  Anurag to withdraw the FIR against him and not to initiate any disciplinary action against that operator since it was that contract worker who first initiated the fight by abusing and pushing him. Anurag was heavily dependent upon Yashwant to make a way and was much confident that he will get him out of the problem but Yashwant was seen helpless. The stalemate continued.

Finding Anurag unable to handle the situation, CEO called the meeting of all HODs to discuss the matter. Anurag was also to be there to appraise the development after meeting representatives.

Questions for discussion :
1. How Anurag should proceed now to break the stalemate and bring normalcy in operations?
2. Do you think the decision of increasing the salary of contractual workers back fired and was a trigger point? How Anurag should have handled the contract workers salary increase issue?
3. Should Anurag have agreed to arrange picnic separately of contractual and permanent workers and not to put the event on hold?
4. Was something wrong on the part of management in managing contract labour and if yes, what are your suggestions?
5. How do you assess the role of Yashwant in whole episode? Was it proper for Anurag to take Yashwant for granted and rely on him so heavily?
6. How do you assess the dynamics of IR scenario in the organization?