How do you see and define new age labour relations? How it differs from old age industrial relations dynamics, thought process and action approach?
SN To begin with, let me make a few observations, in the nature of a broad assessment on what we mean by the new age labour relations.
The new age workers are comparatively more educated and have a better understanding of technology. They are looking for decent jobs with better wages. They are more eager to communicate, to be consulted, to participate and partner as team members.
There are more women in the work force now. As women have greater family responsibilities, workplaces need to pick up skills for being able to adjust better with family responsibilities, without detriment to work. For instance, family requirement of care of a sick child at home can be adjusted by giving flexibility in work hours in return for extra compensatory work. HR/ER managers have to evolve a policy on adjustment at the workplace with family responsibilities.
Women have greater vulnerabilities to sexual harassment and abuse at the work place. Any unwelcome advance of a sexual nature - physical, verbal or non verbal, however subtle, accompanied with a promise/inducement or suggestion of preferential treatment in employment; or a threat of detrimental treatment, is sexual harassment, according to Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act 2013. HR managers need to work out a policy on preventing sexual harassment at the workplace.
More education, more awareness, greater gender equity, paves the way for more freedom generally, and it develop a greater space for freedom of speech and communications at the workplace to add value to collective work. It underlines the need for a carefully worked out and customized Communications policy at the Workplace, focused on common interests of the employees and the employers, like training, career development, technology update, productivity enhancement and sharing the gains of productivity.
As the pace of creation of new knowledge increases, the role of industry in creating new knowledge through improved business processes, research and innovation, development of new intellectual property in the form of patents (new products and processes), copy rights (new scientific, artistic, literary, communications, performances and broadcasts, etc.) and trade marks (new businesses and business innovations), increases. Businesses are not only creating but also disseminating new knowledge through training, apprenticeship and work experience. Businesses are now acquiring an edge over university academic qualifications, by giving more valuable skills through training and work experience, paving the way for lifelong learning.
These features of the new age in labour relations are empowering workers and employers through better interaction, communication and freedom. The essence of employee relations/industrial relations is freedom of association (trade unions) and communication on common and conflicting interests (collective bargaining). Management of employee relations is, thus, becoming a more and more important part of HR.
Do you think that Trade unions are slowly becoming irrelevant in this age of knowledge and digital economy, and if so, and what corrections they should make in their approach and perspective to stay relevant?
SN As regards the role of trade unions in the new age labour relations, it is clear that as freedom and communications increase, the role of democracy and pluralism increases, and so does the role of trade unions. With renewed focus on quality of jobs, education and training, technology and productivity, trade unions, perhaps, need to focus more on common interests than on conflicting interests. Pursuit of common interests promotes productivity, job security, decent jobs, growth in employment and enterprise. Conflicting interests will crop up in matters like sharing of the gains of productivity. Conflicting interests need to be handled with greater 'negotiating skills', by way of working out constructive compromises, purposeful persuasion, adjustment and flexibility, creativity in formulating win - win situations, etc., instead of creating a dead lock.
Is labour day representing origin of collectivism losing its shine and if yes, why?
SN Labour Day, which represents the origin of collectivism, should reinforce the focus on democracy and pluralism through better communication, consultation, cooperation, participation and partnership. These are the five basic principles of sound labour management. Briefly stated, these mean, communication with a view to consult, seek cooperation of team members, and secure their participation and partnership in work. When employees become partners, they become part owners, and the distinction between employers and employees, the main cause of conflict in employee relations, starts disappearing. That is why this process is the key to sound labour management relations.
Labour day should also be an occasion to celebrate pluralism and democracy; and look at some anachronistic practices which could easily be made more consultative and democratic, like for instance, a decision on whether a strike should be undertaken needs to be arrived at through a transparent process democratically, through a 'strike ballot, as under the UK Trade Union and Labour Relations Act 1992, and not without observing any process, as under the Industrial Disputes Act 1947. Under the ID Act, if the strike notice is signed by the Gen Secretary of the union, no one needs to know whether a 'strike ballot' was taken, or the issue was discussed, and how many members of the trade union were opposed, with what reasons.
In manufacturing sector, will robotics going to impact blue collar jobs negatively and if yes, what Proactive steps HR should take in advance to maintain a fine balance in job opportunities and technology advancements?
SN As regards the emergence of robotics, artificial intelligence, digital analytics and other technology advancements, we are moving into an age of greater productivity requiring better training and skills. It will replace a part of what is being done manually and substitute it by automated machines. But human beings have several types of skills. These are measured as : Intelligence Quotient (IQ), Emotional Quotient (EQ) and Spiritual or moral Quotient. Machines will help in augmenting (and even in partially substituting human IQ). But the space of EQ and Spiritual Quotient will always remain with human resources, and become more and more important. EQ and spiritual Quotient largely affect employee relations, social interaction, bonding, retention, team work and entrepreneurship. In the new labour age team work and entrepreneurship will become more important. HR will focus more on EQ and spiritual Quotient, which support team work and entrepreneurship.
How do you evaluate the objectivity and impact of labour reforms undertaken by Govt. on labour relations?
SN Govts - central and state have been undertaking labour reforms. Limit of no. of employees which attract the provisions of the Contract Labour Act have been increased from 20 to 50 in some states. In some states, the limit of 50 workers has been raised to 100 for attracting exit provisions of the ID Act. Central Govt's draft of new labour code is more or less an exercise in consolidating 50 odd labour laws into a few volumes, like IR Code, Wage Code, and Social Security Code. Change in content of law is minimal. For instance, a strike accompanied with violence, will continue to be legal, unlike in many countries, like US.
How dignity of job and respect for labour is enhanced in the industry?
SN One significant feature of the new labour age is that the respect for labour and the dignity of job has increased. There was a time when the owner- 'maalik, in Hindi' was a bad word. It implied exploitation. So many Hindi films are made on the theme - 'Maalik and Naukar'. Maalik, the owner/entrepreneur is now looked upon as the job giver, creator of employment. Employers now manage their enterprises professionally, according to business processes and rules, and are no longer dictatorial and arbitrary. They observe basic human rights at the place of work, respecting the freedom of association and equality. Overt forced labour is generally not there. Art and science of business management have transformed 'Naukar- Maalik' Relations, or employee relations in the new age.
Improved skills of labour, their technology proficiency, their productivity and usefulness are key to the dignity and respect which labour has now come to command in the new age.
How do you evaluate the emerging scenario of labour management relationship in India?
SN A word on the emerging labour - management relations in India, will necessarily recall incidents like the strike, accompanied with violence, at Maruti Car manufacturing factory in Manesar, Gurgaon in the National Capital Region (NCR), a couple of years ago. It resulted in the killing of one Sr. HR manager by workers. Maruti workers are about the highest paid employees in the industry. The unfortunate incident could not be controlled and violence erupted. Strikes, accompanied with violence, have been legal in India, and still continue to be so.
Criminality in India is generally sanctioned by our emerging voting behaviour, which has resulted in 34% of our legislatures being in the hands of persons with criminal background. Employer - employee relations are a sub set of societal relations, and they cannot be completely sealed out from the general environment of criminality in the country.
After the Maruti incident, our MBA students, during their campus placements, started downgrading the manufacturing sector in their priorities, if they had equally well paid options in digital businesses. This poses a challenge to HR/ER as a profession. After having studied the Maruti case study, I feel that a good communication policy could have averted violence on the campus. At least it could have sensed it, and preemptive action could have been taken. It underlines the need for learning from experience, and aligning our education better to deal with the seriousness of the problems the industry is facing. Apart from XLRI, we have very few reputed courses on producing world class HR/ER managers. Perhaps we need executive development programmes on HR/ER Management, say a three/six month programme at premier institutions, like the IIMs, or in the NCR like the National Labour Institute in partnership with IIMs.
What qualities would you expect to see in modern HR managers that embrace ER skills and any message from you to the younger HR generation?
SN One of the qualities in our HR/ER managers should be to aim at maintaining a competitive edge in the market through better management of employee relations. Apart from compensation management, benefits management, bonding and retention, work - life balance, health safety and ergonomics at the place of work, a communications policy at the place of work, HR managers have to develop EQ, spiritual and moral quotient, about which we have spoken earlier, to turn out more seasoned ER managers, better team managers, and also budding entrepreneurs, because every entrepreneurship begins with good team management skills.